Sex and Cannabis (citations available on request)
“There are many false aphrodisiacs whose primary mechanism of effect is the placebo effect. Marijuana is the real thing, one of the only aphrodisiacs to be biochemically effective.” Dr. Susan Block, Sexologist, Yale.
Cannabis and Sex
Cannabis and sex have a long history both culturally and scientifically spanning thousands of years. Some of the culturally and historically significant uses around the world have been both to stimulate and suppress sexual desire in humans.
Both sex and marijuana can induce highly rewarding feelings to our brains. Much in the same way that sex triggers our dopamine system of pleasure, cannabis activates its own system within our bodies – the endocannabinoid system.
The endocannabinoidi system is a network of receptors that interact with the unique cannabinoids found in marijuana. The only other natural source of cannabinoids we know of is our own body. By introducing extra cannabinoids from cannabis into our system, we can induce feelings of euphoriaii – a feeling that we can also get in one form or another from sex. It only makes sense then, that many of our ancestors saw the similarities in feelings between the two and sought to combine them into one ultimate experience.
Historical and Cultural Significance
One of the most renowned cultures to embrace the sexual use of marijuana was that of ancient India. Records indicate that cannabis has been heavily used in India for over 3000 years. India is where certain strains of cannabis were first discovered – hence the name Cannabis indica. Cannabis has been used in various sex elixirs, all aimed at stimulating and enhancing the sexual experienceiii; but most notable, it was, and still is used as a part of Tantra. According to the Raja Valabba the gods sent hemp through compassion for the human race, so that they might attain delight, lose fear and have sexual desires (Dymock, Warden & Hooper 1893) iv
Tantra: Yoga, Meditation and Sex
Tantra is a mystical Hindu-Bhuddist tradition that believes enlightenment (“Nivarna”) can be reached through transcendent physical and mental exercise. Examples of such exercises are yoga, meditation and tantric sex. Many old advanced Tantra methods involve the use of marijuana.v Sacred texts have been uncovered describing how these practices using marijuana were common place in ancient India, and it is believed that the complexity, rigor and intensity described would be beyond many of today’s Tantra practitioners. This is because the practice of Tantra has now spread across the world; many of its practitioners are removed from the cultural place of origin, the life and communities Tantra arose from. Whilst today’s Tantra can certainly go some way to help obtain spiritual and sexual enlightenment, it is in no way comparable to the complexity and intensity described in ancient texts.
Tantra and Cannabis
One of the philosophies of Tantra is that the human body is interwoven with an energy system that is linked to natural and cosmic energies. Men and women have varying degrees of these energies within themselves, and through tantric sex, these energies are untied to create circuits, allowing both partners to reach new heights of spiritual experience, pleasure and intimacy. It is thought in this culture that tantric sex helps facilitate a balance in the universe, nature and the cosmos.
Ancient writings described how cannabis was often used in tantric sexual rituals, dating back to around 700 A.D., where the sex, cannabis and Tantra came together to create a physically demanding, yet exquisite experience that brought true enlightenment, ecstasy and balance to the practitioners.
Those practicing tantric sex would often use a cannabis concoction called “Bhang”.vi This is a heated cannabis milkshake. The resinous bud of the cannabis was put into milk with sugar and other flavorings before being heated to allow the cannabinoids, such as THC, to catalyze within the mixture. It was then drank, followed by breathing and visual imaging exercises until the effects of the cannabis had taken hold. Once a state of intoxication had been achieved, meditation and sexual Tantra would soon follow.
Many cannabis sex rituals are described as a worship of feminine beauty, and would normally focus around two acts – intercourse and the performance of oral sex on the female by the male. Through their Tantric exercise and meditation, both participants would try to make the sexual act last as long as possible. Some texts describe how intercourse would last 7 – 8 hours before both participants reached a mind blowing, spiritual, and cannabis fueled full body orgasm – which induced a timeless feeling of nirvana for its duration.
Cannabis in other cultures
Whilst Indian tantric sex is a deeply spiritual and beautiful one, cannabis also has many other, more practical sexual uses around the world.
Serbian women have long found a use for cannabis within the sexual aspects of their culture. Firstly, it was historically mixed with lamb fat to make “Nasha”.vii This was given to virgins on their wedding night to both arouse and numb the pain of their first time. They also make it into a tonic called “Guckand”, which is meant to be both used as an aphrodisiac and an anesthetic for boys about to be circumcised.viii
Middle Eastern cultures have used cannabis to make “Kif”. This would be used by the women of these cultures to keep themselves occupied whilst men where away, allowing them to sexually fantasize and play.ix
Cannabis, Sex and Modern Society
Both Cannabis and sex have a complicated role in today’s society. Prohibition and religion quite often get in the way, although there are still cultures out there who maintain its use – for example, bhang is still reportedly used in India by newlyweds to reduce pain, and by those who are seeking extra arousal. The belief that cannabis is harmful, or that it is sent by the devil is now slowly being replaced by the acceptance of its beneficial effects. Ignoring political and religious influences for now; what does science have to say about the use of marijuana and the sexual pleasure and desire it reportedly induces?
Scientific Findings – Busting Myths
Let’s look at some myths that have come about. One popular myth is that smoking marijuana damages the reproductive system. Science has actually shown that it does not – it does lower sperm count for the duration that it is being used, but these levels are restored once consumption is halted.x
Another myth to do with the reproductive system is that marijuana always lowers male testosterone levels, thereby reducing their sexual drive. This is still up for debate, but it has been largely disproved by recent studies. This leads us on to the next point, how does weed effect sexual stimulation?
A third myth is that cannabis in the form of hashish was used to indoctrinate the original Assassins by al-Hassan ibn-al-Sabbah. It is a common myth that the word assassin comes from the Arabic word haschishin for hashish user. This myth arose from the notion that the word assassin came from hashish used to give new Hassan recruits a vision of paradise and then to promise that they could return to it if they followed orders and died whilst doing so. al-Hassan ibn-al-Sabbah likely did not use hashish to enlist the aid of young men into his private army known as assassins (aschishin – or follower of Hassan). One of the primary sources for this information comes from the writings of Marco Polo who visited the area in 1273, almost 150 years after the reign of Al-Hassan.xi
THC and Testosterone
As touched on, the notion whether cannabis acts as a sexual stimulant or sexual suppressant is largely debated by the scientific community, and it is such a hot debate because technically, both sides have good some good points.
Whilst the above historical descriptions outline how marijuana was used to enhance sex, it has also been used throughout history as a sexual suppressant; for example, the ancient Roman medical book, De Materia Medica (On Medical Matters), made reference as to how cannabis could be used to treat aches and pains, as well as eliminate sexual desire.
So how can cannabis be both a stimulator and a suppressor? Well, modern science suggests it is to do with the dose of THC that enters the body. Research from the University of Texas found that cannabis effects male sexual activity in two phases.xii In laboratory tests on mice, they found that the initial dose of THC increased the amount of testosterone present in the blood was elevated to about 6 times the norm. However, after 20 minutes, the levels of testosterone plummeted, falling way below that of the control group.xiii
What is also interesting from this research is that they found mice given a low dosage maintained high levels of testosterone for up to an hour. It was only mice given a high dosage whose testosterone levels quickly plummeted. What it suggests is that having a small amount of cannabis can certainly get men in the mood, and for a good length of time; whereas giving a man a high dose will cause him to peak too early, or even prevent any peak at all. This goes someway to support the theories of Tantra – practitioners would not have consumed large amounts, as there was no intention to get “stoned”. This is further supported by the anecdotal accounts of modern day users who report feeling much more sexually in tune and closer to their partners, the same way tantric practitioners do, after consuming small amounts of cannabis.
Why does this happen?
During sexual intercourse without the aid of any drug stimulation, the body will produce a hormone called luteinizing.xiv It takes about 20 minutes for it to be produced in the pituitary gland and then travel to the testes, where it helps produce testosterone; testosterone then travels back to the pituitary gland, creating a circuit within the bloodstream. This system shuts down when the brain believes that there is enough testosterone present in the body. Large doses of THC seem to disrupt this system, possibly causing the brain to think that there is enough testosterone too early, causing levels of testosterone to plummet after 20 minutes. As mentioned, low doses of THC do not seem to have this effect.
So, as you can see, cannabis can both stimulate and suppress the desire to have sex. It has played a large part in the history of human sexual intercourse, and probably will continue to do so for many years to come. If nothing, the practice of Tantra has shown how the use of cannabis during sex can be a very beautiful and intimate experience.
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