Decades of popular anecdotes have claimed that marijuana improves sex. Now, a new study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine has found a link between orgasm and a marijuana-like molecule produced by the body, giving us a better look at the role marijuana plays on human sexual response.
Researchers continue to investigate how our bodies react to the molecules our body naturally produces that mimic those present in cannabis. Our internal cannabinoids (endocannabinoids) and those produced by plants (phytocannabinoids), trigger a system of cannabinoid receptors, called the endocannabinoid system.
The endocannabinoid system consists of two well-known types, called CB1 and CB2.
CB1 receptors are found mostly in the brain and spine, while the CB2 receptors are present throughout the body’s organs. CB1 is primarily triggered by the endocannabinoid anandamide. CB2 is likewise triggered by 2-arachidonoylglycerol, or 2-AG.
Anandamide gets its name from root words meaning “bliss.”
When it triggers the CB1 receptors in our brains, we feel pleasure, the so-called “runner’s high” some athletes achieve when their workout releases a flood of anandamide. Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, the phytocannabinoid known as THC, mimics anandamide, but to a greater degree, giving us the so-called “high” marijuana consumers achieve.
Counterintuitively, however, it was the production of the endocannabinoid 2-AG that these researchers found to be affected by sexual pleasure.
In two separate studies, researchers found that healthy men and women who masturbated to orgasm tested for elevated levels of 2-AG, but not anandamide.
“We hypothesize that 2-AG release plays a role in the rewarding consequences of sexual arousal and orgasm,” concluded the scientists.
How this information relates to use of marijuana on sexual response is unclear.
THC directly engages with both CB1 and CB2 receptors. Thus, when THC has taken over a receptor, there is no place for an endocannabinoid to engage. Perhaps too much THC interferes with the action of 2-AG in sexual response?
Cannabidiol, or CBD, however, doesn’t directly engage an endocannabinoid receptor. Instead, it boosts the body’s levels of 2-AG. Perhaps a high-CBD phytocannabinoid source would improve the action of 2-AG in sexual response?
There remain many questions to be answered when it comes to the influence of marijuana on human sexual response. Should people experiencing sexual dysfunction be counseled to give up marijuana for a while? Should people looking to improve sexual function be counseled to switch up to a CBD-dominant strain?
And, most importantly, where does one sign up to become a research subject for these kinds of studies?