Updated on March 9, 2021.
Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
As more states legalize cannabis, other wellness benefits can be explored. For example, does cannabis help reduce pain, which can enhance sexual performance? Are there any therapeutic benefits to using cannabis to address erectile dysfunction?
Many Americans now use marijuana therapeutically to address health concerns. Some of those concerns are for physical symptoms, such as chronic pain. And others use cannabis for the treatment of mental health disorders, like anxiety or depression.
With legalization comes more questions about the long-term use of medical cannabis. Researchers want to understand whether cannabis has a net positive or negative effect on sexual health. And the potential for cannabis to address route causes of erectile dysfunction for men.
Five Clinical Causes of Erectile Dysfunction
Treating erectile dysfunction can be challenging because it may be caused by more than one condition. For example, it could be an undiagnosed chronic disease, a collection of physiological or psychological symptoms.
In terms of medical diagnoses, there are five clinical causes of erectile dysfunction.
1. Vascular Disease
Did you know that erectile dysfunction can be an early warning sign of developing coronary artery disease? The University of Utah reported that almost 70% of coronary artery disease cases start with ED.
Small arteries in the male genitalia sustain something called atherosclerosis. That is a blockage of blood vessels on the penis. The healthy blood flow triggered by sexual arousal can be reduced to a trickle. And the endothelium (inside lining of blood vessels) can also be damaged.
The endothelium reduces chemicals to arteries to expand when more blood flow is needed or anticipated. Queue the disco music! Except the volume is too low to party. The endothelium is damaged not only by hypertension (and stress) by also by smoking or diseases like diabetes. Eating a healthy diet, losing weight, and quitting cigarettes can help.
2. Endocrine Disorders
Never heard of an endocrine disorder? The one you are most familiar with would be diabetes—about 50% of American men diagnosed with diabetes experience erectile dysfunction (ED). When blood glucose levels aren’t controlled, it leads to nerve damage. And not just in the feet, for people with diabetes.
Hypogonadism is another endocrine problem that can create challenges south of the border. Hypogonadism refers to issues with testosterone levels. The condition suppresses the production of testosterone, the male sex hormone.
3. Medication Side-Effects and Erectile Problems
What comes first? Erectile dysfunction and a higher than average risk of clinical depression? Or depression and then ED? The jury is out on that question in the medical community. But medications like antidepressants, hypertension pills, and testosterone blockers are known to mess with male functioning.
4. Surgeries in the Pelvic Area
Sexual dysfunction for men can occur after certain types of surgeries. The network of nerve endings in the area (naturally) is very sensitive. And the location of most of the nerves responsible for raising the ramparts? They are located right beside the prostate.
Other sexual health surgeries can contribute to genital nerve damage for men. Including radical prostatectomy (PR), low anterior or abdominoperineal resections (APRs) to treat rectal cancer, and cystoprostatectomy.
If a man requires surgery in the prostate areas, there is a high probability of sustaining nerve damage. In some cases, physicians can use a treatment called “Nerve Sparing” to improve functioning. But for some men, the ability to have an erection may not return without a little blue pill. Pfizer’s Viagra (sildenafil citrate) helps relax the muscles and increase blood flow. Solving (but not curing) the problem for many men.
5. Neurological Problems and Disorders
Men who have suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or other neurological impairment are prone to erectile dysfunction. Any acquired brain injury (ABI) can be complicated by infection or other diseases that impair bodily functions. From your nose, to well… you know.
The most common impairments to normal sexual functioning for men with a neurological disorder are:
Reduced Sex Drive
More than 50% of people with a traumatic head injury experience a significant drop in sex drive. Researchers believe this is because of a block to normal stimulus gathering, including the reception of pheromones.
Not surprisingly, given sensual stimulation starts in the brain. And if the sensory to brain and brain to nerve receptors messaging system is broken, erectile difficulties may happen. The processes needed to shift from a yellow to a green light in sexual stimulation can be broken.
Evasive or Unattainable ‘Finish Line’
Men can experience an inability to finish intercourse successfully. Loss in physical sensory and chemical messaging may impact between 40% to 60% of men. This can also contribute to a reduction in the frequency of sex. Why do it if it’s not fun?
While there are many different therapeutic treatments, men may feel embarrassed and hesitate to seek medical advice. It is important to remember that a neurological barrier to sexual performance can be treatable. The more severe the brain injury, the more common erectile and obstacles to stimulation are for patients.
The Impact of Chronic Stress on Male Sexual Performance and Erectile Dysfunction
Stress is something you can sometimes feel emotionally. If you are normally a relaxed person, when you are feeling stressed, the symptoms are noticeable. You may feel agitated emotionally or irritable. Fatigue is another symptom of stress. And other side-effects of stress can include problems focusing, headaches, and stomach upset.
More than one-third of Americans are estimated to have chronic stress. The American Psychological Association reported that stress is a major health problem in the United States. And the challenge with chronic stress is that it never goes away. It becomes part of your daily life. And as such, over time, you adapt the symptoms. Chronic stress symptoms become less noticeable when you cope with them every day.
Vascular disease is one of the leading causes of erectile dysfunction in men, by narrowing the vein and artery structures and reducing blood flow to the pelvic area. And without diving too much into the ‘birds and the bees’, cell damage and low oxygen flow make it hard to get and sustain an erection.
Men can be hesitant to talk about erectile dysfunction (or any health issues) with a physician or practitioner. To most men, it’s embarrassing. They feel like there is something wrong with them if they feel like things down there are running at ‘half-mast.’ In truth, erectile dysfunction can be caused by severe health problems. Most of which can be addressed with medication, stress management, and healthy lifestyle changes.
Hypertension Can Become Life-Threatening
So, you are feeling stressed? Big deal, right? Everyone goes through phases in their life where things are extra stressful. Whether you are facing stress at work or in your relationships, or anxiety over a long-term medical condition or new diagnosis, life can be stressful! So, we learn to cope with stress without acknowledging it as a medical symptom and threat to our health.
The medical community calls hypertension a ‘silent killer.’ High blood pressure is one of the leading causes of damage to the heart. And it can increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, and brain aneurisms. When someone has chronic stress, they also tend to have hypertension (high blood pressure). The two conditions are symbiotic. Stress and hypertension both cause and exacerbate cardiovascular health.
Hypertension can lead to arterial blockages. High levels of stress and high blood pressure thicken the walls of major arteries. When your pulse is racing, so is the supply of blood and oxygen through veins and arteries. But when the arteries’ walls thicken, it makes it harder for blood to travel through them.
Starting from midlife (age forty and up), hypertension is linked to declines in mental acuity. It is also one of the leading causes of dementia for seniors. Brain cells are damaged or die when a stroke occurs because of low blood flow and oxygen levels. For men, chronic hypertension can be caused by chronic stress and anxiety, which is why stress management is critical to good health.
Can Cannabis Make Sex Better?
Ask anyone who has used cannabis for several years. Different studies say “absolutely!”. Cannabis can improve the sexual performance and experience with your partner. Even if you don’t have a partner and go solo. Check out this article from Marijuana Moment for some fascinating insight.
There was an interesting study before we started to see a mass state and global legalization of cannabis. It was published in the Journal of Sex Research in 1984. The study reported that:
Over two-thirds of adults reported increased pleasure having sex after consuming cannabis. Patients reported an increased sensitivity (in a good way) to touch.
Both men and women in the study felt that marijuana was an aphrodisiac. And more than 20% of participants said they consumed cannabis before sex to amplify their sensory experiences.
About half of male participants said that cannabis increased their attraction to their partner. For women, the ‘weed goggles’ effect came in at 60%. So maybe, pack her bowl first.
We found this kind of funny and interesting. Only 34% of men in the study said that cannabis made them feel like snuggling more. Whereas 56% of women said, it made them want to cuddle up. That could be a good or a bad thing, depending on how high you rate a good post-snog snuggle.
Cannabis Can Chemically Rev Up Your Sex Life
You probably know that your body has natural endocannabinoid receptors and makes its cannabinoids. A new study suggested that the 2-AG cannabinoid levels go up after men or women experience an orgasm.
Where does cannabis come in? After you smoke or ingest a marijuana edible, the cannabinoids start to open blood vessels throughout the body. That increases blood flow to every extremity. And certain strains can have anti-anxiety and analgesic effects. It can make sex more emotionally relaxing and physically comfortable. Strains of cannabis that are high in CBD can also help reduce inflammation and discomfort.
From a chemistry and emotional perspective, cannabis might be the most important thing you store on your night table. Beside your bed for both you and your partner.