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How Does Marijuana Affect My Erections?

Scientific research has yet to determine definitively the effect of cannabis consumption on male erectile function. It may be that marijuana’s effects, negative or positive, are pretty much dose-dependent, similar to the effects of alcohol.

The effects of marijuana use on male sexual performance have been the subject of a lively debate for decades. Some sources have touted weed for its ability to relax men and banish the performance anxiety that sometimes interferes with erectile function, while others argue that marijuana can make it more difficult to get it up. Who to believe?

The pro-marijuana forces in this debate would seem to have history on their side. Practitioners of both Ayurveda and Unani, traditional medicine systems in use for millennia in the Indian subcontinent and adjacent areas, have long used marijuana to increase sex drive and overcome impotence, as well as to cure other ailments.

On the other side of the debate stand medical researchers who point to laboratory and animal tests that seem to show marijuana actually works against erection by desensitizing certain nerves in the spongy erectile tissue of the penis.

Debate Rages On

While this debate is far from over, the balance may have tipped ever so slightly in favor of the scientists who seem to believe marijuana’s drawbacks outweigh its benefits when it comes to erectile function. A clear signal of this subtle shift came in an article that freelance writer Mike Adams posted a few years back at HighTimes.com, the website of the magazine beloved  by cannabis lovers everywhere since it first hit the newsstands in 1974. Although the article itself has since been taken down, the points made by Adams still remain valid.

As the basis for his acknowledgement that marijuana could possibly sabotage the erectile process, Adams cited findings from a 2011 review of the scientific literature that showed the effects of cannabis on certain penile nerve receptors. Or as Adams so aptly put it, the review showed that marijuana “contains certain molecules that have a way of targeting nerve receptors in the penis and rendering them numb, which has an uncanny way of hindering a stoner’s ability to get a stiffie.”

Doctors Call for Increased Study

The 2011 review to which Adams refers was conducted by urologists Rany Shamloul, M.D., and Anthony J. Bella, M.D., who at the time were both associated with the University of Ottawa’s Department of Urology. Shamloul and Bella make no suggestion that their review provides a definitive answer to questions about whether or not pot promotes or hinders erection. They do, however, make clear that the findings from in-vitro and animal studies showing the negative effects of cannabis on the erectile process deserve further study to see if such effects are replicated in humans.

THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana, may desensitize some nerve and muscle tissues in the penis, making it more difficult to get and keep an erection.

THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana, may desensitize some nerve and muscle tissues in the penis, making it more difficult to get and keep an erection.

In his article, Adams also reported that Shamloul says the effects of marijuana smoking are sometimes so relaxing that it can cause men to lose interest in sex and suffer from delayed ejaculation and the consequent pain.

In a February 2011 article posted at LiveScience.com, contributing writer Stephanie Pappas reports on the Shamloul-Bella review and looks back at the sometimes contradictory results from previous scientific studies into marijuana’s effects on male sexual performance.

Studies Produce Conflicting Evidence

Pappas notes that serious study into the subject dates back to the early 1970s. She reports that one such study, published in the “Journal of Psychoactive Drugs” in 1982, reported that 75 percent of the men surveyed said smoking pot enhanced their sexual experiences. Appearing in the same journal later that same year was another study that found that the incidence of erection problems was roughly twice as high among regular pot users.

Some observers have suggested that effects from the use of marijuana, much like those observed following the consumption of alcohol, may be dose-dependent. That is to say, that maybe a few hits off a doobie may be sufficiently relaxing to have an enhancing effect on any sex that follows, just as a glass or two of alcohol can remove inhibitions and make sex more pleasurable.

However, overdo it on either marijuana or alcohol, and things seem to go downhill, at least as far as erectile function is concerned.

Effects on Smooth Muscle

Shamloul also cites the findings of an earlier study, published in a 2010 issue of “European Urology,” that showed that marijuana’s active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), inhibited the smooth muscles of the penis. The study in question based its findings on laboratory tests in which THC was introduced to samples of penile tissue from five male patients and six rhesus monkeys.

Of the earlier study’s implications, Shamloul says, “This is a more serious effect on the erectile function because the smooth muscle makes up 70 percent to 80 percent of the penis itself.” Finding out more about the long-term effects of marijuana smoking is important because cannabis use is particularly high among young males at their sexual peak in life.

Most researchers agree that more human trials need to be done before the effects of cannabis on erectile function can be definitively determined.

Most researchers agree that more human trials need to be done before the effects of cannabis on erectile function can be definitively determined.

Effects on Testosterone Levels

Another long-simmering and related dispute has focused on the effects of cannabis use on testosterone levels in male marijuana users. Like the broader controversy over the effects of marijuana use on erectile function, such studies that exist have produced contradictory findings. Testosterone is the primary male sex hormone and, as such, plays a significant role in sexual desire, although it is not directly involved in the erectile process. However, without sexual desire, there’s little likelihood that you’ll have much need for an erection.

One focal point of the continuing controversy about marijuana’s effects on the male hormonal system in general is the concern that many young men have about the possibility of gynecomastia, a condition in which male breast tissue swells. While it’s clear that this somewhat embarrassing medical condition, sometimes referred to as “man boobs,” can be traced to some type of hormonal imbalance, it’s unclear how such imbalances develop.

Exact Causes Uncertain

Exactly what factors may trigger such an imbalance have been the subject of considerable debate. On its list of causes of gynecomastia, MayoClinic.com lists marijuana, as well as alcohol, amphetamines, heroin, and methadone. Other possible causes of the condition are a variety of medications and several health conditions, including aging, tumors, hyperthyroidism, and liver and/or kidney failure.

In a 2013 article posted at MedicalDaily.com, writer Susan Scutti points out that most of the evidence of marijuana’s adverse effects on testosterone levels has been drawn from animal studies, while findings from comparable human studies — scant though they may be — have been inconclusive. She does acknowledge, however, that those animal studies indicate that exposure to THC “can decrease testosterone levels while also generally affecting the endocrine system.”

Getting a definitive answer to the questions of cannabis’s effects on testosterone levels also will undoubtedly require much more study, including increased clinical studies on human subjects and not just animal and laboratory tests.

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Don Amerman has spent more than three decades in the business of writing and editing. During the last 15 years, his focus has been on freelance writing. For almost all of his writing, He has done all of his own research, both online and off, including telephone and face-to-face interviews where possible. Don Amerman on Google+