Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States. As it is often taken recreationally to induce a “high,” many individuals choose to engage in marijuana use and sexual behavior at the same time in order to heighten their sexual experience. This article will explore the benefits and drawbacks of marijuana use both in general and in conjunction with sexual activity.
Marijuana refers to the dried flowers and leaves of the cannabis plant. Cannabis plants are grown in warm climates throughout the world. Marijuana, which is commonly referred to as weed or pot, contains two active compounds. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the mind-altering, or psychoactive, compound. This is the compound which causes individuals to get “high” when they use marijuana. Marijuana also contains the compound cannabidiol, or CBD, which is not psychoactive, meaning it does not induce a “high.”1 Multiple strains of marijuana exist, the most popular of which are cannabis sativa and cannabis indica. Cannabis sativa induces an energetic, cerebral high, while cannabis indica induces a more relaxed, full-body high. Some people also choose to use a hybrid strain of cannabis sativa and cannabis indica.2
Marijuana can be consumed in several different ways. One very popular method is smoking marijuana. Individuals do so by grinding up the dried leaves of the cannabis plant, and either rolling the marijuana up and smoking it like a cigarette (referred to as a joint) or a cigar (referred to as a blunt), or smoking the marijuana out of a glass pipe or bong. Another popular method is infusing extracted chemicals from marijuana with food and consuming it as an “edible”. Other individuals smoke cannabis-infused oils, concentrates, or extracts from the marijuana plant, which is a practice referred to as “dabbing.”
Effects of Marijuana
When an individual smokes or consumes marijuana, THC and the other active compounds are absorbed through the lungs or stomach into the bloodstream. These compounds then travel to the brain and the other organs throughout the body. Once the compounds reach the brain, they
activate certain brain cell receptors that release excess chemicals such as dopamine. This triggers the “high” people experience when they use marijuana.1 Marijuana can produce a variety of stimulant, depressant, and hallucinogenic effects, and the way one feels when they are high varies from person to person.
When an individual consumes marijuana, they typically experience physical changes in the body, such as a reddening of the eyes, an increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, a dry mouth, and an increased appetite. Other sensations reported by marijuana users include a calm sensation throughout the body, pain relief, and heightened sensitivity. Mental effects of marijuana use include heightened awareness of and pleasure from external stimuli, elevated feelings of happiness, relaxation, and creativity, and an altered sense of time.1 While many report positive emotions with marijuana use, some individuals report more negative effects including difficulty thinking and problem solving, impaired memory, lack of motivation, depression, anxiety, and paranoia.3
Long-Term Effects and Risks
While the immediate effects of marijuana tend to subside as an individual’s high fades, individuals who use marijuana regularly face the risk of long-term impacts. Those who consume marijuana by smoking it are at risk of damaging the lungs and cardiovascular system. Smoking marijuana in the form of joints, blunts, pipes, or bowls can harm lung tissue and cause scarring and damage to the small blood vessels in the lungs. Smoke from marijuana has been found to contain many of the same toxins, irritants, and carcinogens – the substances which can cause cancer – found in tobacco smoke. Because a side-effect of marijuana is an increased heart rate, heavy marijuana use also poses the risk of stroke and heart disease; this risk is highest when marijuana is smoked rather than consumed in an edible form.4
There are also risks associated with consuming marijuana in an edible form. It is difficult to accurately measure the amount of THC present in an edible, which presents the risk of consuming more THC than desired at one time. In addition, the compounds in edibles take between 30 minutes and two hours to fully take effect, which poses the risk of an individual consuming too much if they do not wait long enough for the compounds to take effect. While one cannot fatally overdose on marijuana, overconsumption can cause adverse side effects including extreme confusion, anxiety, paranoia panic, fast heart rate, delusions, hallucinations, increased blood pressure, and severe nausea and vomiting. The symptoms caused by consuming too much edible marijuana will also last longer because the effects of edible marijuana tend to be more prolonged than those that result from smoking marijuana.4
Regular consumption of marijuana in any form is linked to short term problems with attention, memory, and learning. In addition, heavy marijuana use in the adolescent years negatively impacts brain development, leading to reduced attention, memory, and learning functions because marijuana impacts the way in which the brain builds connections between the areas necessary for these functions.4
Marijuana is consumed for both recreational enjoyment and medicinal purposes. Many individuals choose to use marijuana recreationally to experience the high described above. Recreational marijuana use is now legal in 15 states in the United States for individuals who are at least 21 years old.5
While the United States Federal Drug Administration has not recognized or approved marijuana as medicine, 33 states across the US have legalized medical marijuana.5 The compound THC has proven beneficial for treating nausea in cancer patients and promoting appetite in HIV-positive individuals. While marijuana is not a cure or treatment for cancer, it helps soothe nausea and vomiting caused by certain cancer therapies, such as chemotherapy. CBD, the non-psychoactive compound in marijuana, has proven helpful for children that experience seizures for which other medicines have proven ineffective. CBD can also be used to relieve pain and inflammation without causing a high. In addition, marijuana can be helpful for treating pain in individuals with damaged nerves.4
Sex and Marijuana
Marijuana is an illicit substance only recently legalized in select locations; therefore, there are few studies on the effects of marijuana use on sexuality. Most studies rely on anecdotal evidence and self-reported effects of marijuana use on sexual activity. Several studies have shown that subjects report that marijuana positively impacts sexual satisfaction, desire,
orgasm, and pain reduction. A 2019 study of marijuana use on womens’ sexual functioning revealed that those who either ingested marijuana before sex or were frequent users of the drug were twice as likely to report satisfactory orgasms than those who did not ingest marijuana frequently or before sex. Because marijuana users report heightened sensations, including touch, it is possible that the increased sensitivity during a “high” is responsible for heightened orgasms. In addition, marijuana is reported to cause feelings of relaxation and reductions in anxiety, leading to lowered sexual inhibitions, higher willingness to experiment sexually, and reduced self-consciousness. Furthermore, the slowed-down temporal perception of time may lead users to experience prolonged feelings of pleasurable sensations, leading to more enjoyable sexual experiences. Cannabinoid receptors have been mapped to several areas of the brain that play a role in sexual function; this may also explain why marijuana use is correlated with increased sexual pleasure.6
Individuals who are frequent users of marijuana tend to engage in sexual activity more frequently; however, it is not clear whether this is a result of positive impacts of the drug on sexual behavior, or the likelihood that an individual who uses illicit drugs might be more likely to engage in sexual behavior. Marijuana users are also more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors and unprotected sex.7 It is again unclear whether this is due to the fact that marijuana use tends to lower inhibitions, or because those who use illicit drugs might be more prone to engage in risky sexual behavior. Because marijuana use does lower inhibitions and alter users’ mental states, consent for sexual activity may become unclear. Consent is necessary in all sexual interactions, and therefore must be established clearly before any sexual activity is engaged in when partners consume marijuana. In addition, partners should communicate with one another about using protection to prevent pregnancy and the spread of STIs before engaging in sexual activity.
Though popular opinion of marijuana is changing, as the number of people favoring the legalization of recreational marijuana is increasing, marijuana use is controversial and not something that everyone agrees on. If an individual is in a relationship, marijuana use should be discussed between partners openly and honestly, with each partner coming to a common understanding about the role marijuana plays in their relationship and how it affects each partner in the relationship.
Effects of Marijuana on Fertility and Pregnancy
Research on the effects of marijuana on fertility is limited; however, some studies have illustrated a notable correlation between marijuana use and fertility and fetal development. A 2019 study found that using marijuana more than once a week may lower an individual’s sperm count by nearly one third. Individuals who used marijuana more than once a week for three months had sperm counts 29% lower on average than their peers who used marijuana less frequently or did not use marijuana. It is unclear what causes this decline in sperm count; however, it is possible that THC may disrupt sperm production because it interacts with receptors in the testes. While it is possible that marijuana use causes a decline in sperm count, the correlation between frequent marijuana use and low sperm counts can be explained by many other behavioral and lifestyle factors that can affect sperm count and hormonal levels. While sperm count did tend to decrease, there was no notable impact on sperm motility or morphology.
Marijuana also has adverse correlations with fertility in individuals with uteruses. Ovulation was delayed by an average of 1.7 to 3.5 days in individuals who smokes marijuana at least once in a period of 3 months. In a study of 201 individuals, 43% of anovulatory cycles, menstrual cycles in which ovulation does not occur, occurred in marijuana smokers despite their making up only 15% of the study population.8
Despite the apparent correlation between frequent marijuana use and decreased fertility, national cross-sectional survey data in the United States reveals that frequent marijuana use in either partner does not significantly impact time to pregnancy. However, if a couple struggles with infertility, the correlation between marijuana usage and low fertility is something they may consider before partaking in marijuana use.8
Because marijuana is often used medicinally to treat nausea, vomiting, discomfort, and pain, as marijuana becomes more widely legalized and acceptable, increasing numbers of pregnant individuals choose to use marijuana to aid the symptoms of pregnancy. While marijuana may relieve the discomfort experienced by pregnant individuals, marijuana use during pregnancy poses potential risks to fetuses. Infants exposed to marijuana while in the womb were found to have decreased birth weight and a higher likelihood of needing admission to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). However, it is not clear whether marijuana use is independently responsible, or if the pregnant individuals engaged in other behaviors that may predispose infants to low birth weight and NICU admission.9
Marijuana is a popular drug that is becoming more widely legalized and acceptable within the United States and around the world. Many individuals choose to use marijuana to experience a euphoric high, and many also choose to engage in sexual behavior while under the influence of marijuana. However, while marijuana is becoming increasingly popular and acceptable, there are health risks posed by frequent consumption of marijuana that should be kept in mind if one chooses to ingest it. Before using marijuana or any other drug, it may be wise to consult a medical professional. Sexinfo Online does not endorse the use of illegal drugs, but promotes safety for those who choose to use or experiment with any substance.
1. Johnston, L. “Marijuana.” National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). N.p., n.d. Web. Mar. 2016.
2. “Strain Types: Sativa vs Indica vs Hybrid.” Green Doctor Network. N.p., 22 May 2015. Web. 23 Jan. 2017.
3. “9 Side Effects of Marijuana.” Leaf Science. N.p., 24 Apr. 2016. Web. 24 Jan. 2017.
4. “Marijuana: How Can it Affect your Health?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 27 February 2018.
5. Karmen Hanson, A. G. “State Medical Marijuana Laws.” National Conference of State Legislatures, 2021.
6. Becky K. Lynn, Julia D. López, Collin Miller, Judy Thompson, E. Cristian Campian, The Relationship between Marijuana Use Prior to Sex and Sexual Function in Women, Sexual Medicine, 2019 Volume 7(2).
7. Currin, J. M., Croff, J. M., & Hubach, R. D. (2018). Baked sex: The exploration of sex-related drug expectancies of marijuana users. Sexuality Research & Social Policy, 15(3), 378-386.
8. Ilnitsky, S., & Van Uum, S. (2019). Marijuana and fertility. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association Journal = Journal De L’Association Medicale Canadienne, 191(23), E638.
9. Ryan, S., Ammerman, S., & O’Connor, M. (2018). Marijuana Use During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: Implications for Neonatal and Childhood Outcomes. Pediatrics, 142(3), Pediatrics, September 2018, Vol.142(3).
Last updated: 04 March 2021