SMOKIN' ROMANCE

How legal weed could change the future of sex

Photo Illustration by Elena Scotti/Fusion

Weed’s got a dirty little secret: It holds the power to transform our sex lives.

Our ancient ancestors believed it (hello, tantric sex rituals), researchers in the 70s and 80s tried to prove it, and today, savvy “potrepreneurs” are attempting to capitalize on it. Cannabis-laced lube is only the beginning.

What can pot do in bed? With the right strain and dosage, it can slooow down time, making every touch feel more intense, every kiss more passionate. For some people with sexual dysfunctions, it can make the unreachable reachable. And as with medical marijuana, those who stand to benefit extend beyond, say, whoever’s signing up for that new dating app for pot lovers.

As states move to legalize marijuana, the drug is poised to enter the bedroom in weird and wonderful ways—potentially changing the way we mate forever. We spoke with experts and advocates about the little-understood aphrodisiac’s potential between the sheets. Here’s what we learned.

Is pot really a love drug?

Many, many years before “potheads” and “munchies” were a thing, pleasure-seekers in ancient India used cannabis (known as “bhang”) in tantric sex. Nineteenth-century Persian prostitutes were also well-known users of ganja, and in 1930s Russia, young brides were advised to partake on their wedding night as a way to make having sex for the first time more pleasurable (read: less uncomfortable).

But it wasn’t until the 1970s and 80s when pot was making a comeback into American culture that U.S. researchers James Halikas, Ronald Weller, and others conducted multiple studies that seemingly proved marijuana’s aphrodisiac effects. Participants in these studies reported enhanced touch, heightened intimacy, stronger orgasms, and better sex in general.

Since then, the research has gone flaccid. “Very little has been done on this topic since the 1980s,” said Mitch Earleywine, a professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Albany who has researched marijuana for years. “There’s no funding for it, and everybody tends to treat it as fact.”

As more states legalize the drug, pot researchers and advocates hope funding will follow.

What’s the science behind it?

Cannabis contains chemical compounds called cannabinoids, the most active and famous being tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), explained Dustin Sulak, an osteopathic physician in Maine who lectures on medical marijuana nationally. And humans have built-in receptors for cannabinoids nearly everywhere: our brain, nervous system, and yes, sexual organs.

When we use marijuana, cannabinoids bind to these receptors, prompting changes in key parts of the brain. Along with causing an increased appetite and tendency to wax philosophical, these chemical reactions can lead to mind-blowing sex—by slowing down time, making us more sensitive to touch, and reducing stress.

Take weed’s impact on the hippocampus, which controls memory: When under the influence of marijuana, our short-term memory becomes inhibited, Sulak said, making sex feel longer and allowing us to “stay in the moment” rather than worry about that unpaid electric bill.

What does all this look like in practice? 😉

Marijuana doesn’t just enable some people to have sex, but improves on sex itself, said San Diego-based sexologist Nick Karras, famous for his book Petals. Karras and his colleague Kami Lennox are studying marijuana’s effects in the bedroom, based on testimonials they’re collecting from real-life users. He regularly recommends cannabis to his own clients.

“I’m a sexologist, I help couples try to reconnect sexually,” he told Fusion. “Most people turn to alcohol to connect, but marijuana slows you down. You can sit and look at each other, enjoy each other’s bodies. When it comes to pot, it’s all about touching and feeling.”

“Between depression, two kids, and a full work life, sex was last on my list,” said one woman in Karras’ study. “Now it is back in a big way … I was never sure that I was ‘supposed’ to enjoy sex, with pot I am convinced that I can have it all—sex, fun, and orgasmic experiences.”

Another participant said she had lost her sex drive completely thanks to menopause. Then she and her husband attempted sex with marijuana for the first time.

“We began to explore each other’s bodies in ways we never had before, taking plenty of time to feel the extraordinary pleasure in just touching each other with tongue and fingers,” she said.

Sulak, the osteopathic physician in Maine, said he’s heard of cannabis restoring sexual capacity in his clinics’ clients for a variety of reasons, including pain reduction, forgetting trauma, stress relief, bringing awareness into the present, and even enabling erection.

“Unlike men’s Viagra, cannabis doesn’t have a single effect on physiology,” he said. “It has broad effects on body and mind, and can be used to facilitate healing of the root of sexual dysfunction, as well as making the experience of sex a little—or maybe a lot—better.”

How are ‘potrepreneurs’ getting in on the action?

Last month, Foria began selling its pot-infused lubricant in legal marijuana dispensaries across Colorado—it had previously only been available with a medical marijuana card in California. The product, which is sprayed on the vagina, promises to enhance orgasms and make sex more pleasurable. Testimonials from women who’ve tried it are pretty incredible.

Foria’s CEO, Mathew Gerson, who first cut his teeth in the condom game (he founded Sir Richard’s Condoms), told Fusion that the lube contains no psychoactive properties, so it doesn’t make you high. “It creates a purely sensory based experience,” Gerson told Fusion, “allowing the user to relax, de-stress, slow down, and enjoy sex.”

Gerson said his company has reached out to local sex therapists, who’ve begun to tell patients with marijuana cards about the product. The company plans to expand to more states as recreational legalization spreads.

Foria isn’t the only company developing sex-related pot products. Colorado-based firm Apothecanna, already known for its marijuana lip balm, is also developing a pot-laced lubricant, but it’s unclear when it will go to market. And SC Labs, which runs a cannabis testing facility in California, is working with doctors and researchers to test a slew of new products—massage oil, pain-relieving gels, even anal and vaginal suppositories—said president Josh Wurzer.

“This is a potential billion-dollar industry,” Diane Fornbacher, editor of the pot-centric Ladybud website, told Fusion. “It’s incredibly hot right now.”

What’s the catch?

Nothing is perfect, especially not weed.

Marijuana is a complicated plant that contains between 450 and 500 alkaloids—chemical compounds that have very different physiological effects on humans, warned Estelle Goldstein, a psychiatrist in San Diego. “It dares modern pharmacological research to solve its mysteries,” she said.

One of those mysteries is dosage. According to Goldstein, smaller amounts may make users sexually frisky, whereas larger amounts may leave them “stoned.” And of course, getting stoned can be sexual suicide. “A little is optimal, too much has diminishing returns,” she said.

Karras echoed this sentiment: “Pot reacts differently in different people,” he said. “Strain is very important, dosage is more important, and also intention—getting into that mindful place where you can connect with your partner.”

What’s next?

Of course, the future of sex and weed relies on the continued legalization of marijuana—and the education, outreach, and research that will follow.

In the meantime, if you live in a state where pot is legal, proceed with caution. And a little Barry White.