The Western discovery of cannabis as an aphrodisiac
Besides the overall effects of cannabis, that we discussed in the blog, ‘The Psychoactive Effects of Cannabis’, another of the pronounced effects of cannabis noticed by investigators is its aphrodisiac effect. This was observed in Bengal by the Irish doctor and pioneer cannabis researcher William O’Shaugnessy (1843:368), who reported that in many of the patients to whom he experimentally administered cannabis, for a variety of medical complaints, cannabis was “highly aphrodisiac.” Modern sociological and psychological studies, such as those by Tart (1971:141–151) and Earlywine (2002:111–112) confirm the pronounced aphrodisiac effects on most consumers, in terms of heightened arousal, sensation and orgasm. However, there are also reports of cannabis reducing sexual appetite (for example, de Ropp 1957:96).
Interestingly, other early Western experimenters—such as the Americans John Bell (1857) and Fitz Hugh Ludlow (2015) , and the Frenchmen Jacques-Joseph Moreau de Tours (1845), Théophile Gautier (1969)  and Charles Baudelaire (1969) —who mainly report on the effects of high doses of cannabis on themselves rather than reporting on the observed effects on others, although providing very detailed accounts of their experiences, do not discuss its aphrodisiac effects, most probably on account of potential social embarrassment in the prevailing moral ethos of the times.
Recreational cannabis use begins in the West
Apart from relatively small-scale experiments with cannabis in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, recreational cannabis culture first emerged in the West in the southern states of the USA in the 1920s. By the 1930s it was associated by the popular American press in a negative way, not only with jazz, black musicians and Mexican immigrants, but also with very libertarian attitudes to sex (de Ropp 1957:107; Lee 2012:48–52). Although marijuana use flourished at this time in a minor way in the ‘tea pads’ of Harlem and elsewhere, it was really only in the 1960s that the counter-culture movement in the Western world properly let the aphrodisiac cannabis cat out of the bag.
Cannabis used as an aphrodisiac in India
Unlike the situation in Europe and the USA, in India the aphrodisiac potential of cannabis has been known about for many centuries. Cannabis (bhṛṅgī/bhaṅgā/ śaṇa/indrāśaṇa/tribhavanavijayā) first appears in Āyurvedic medical texts around the 11th/12th century (Muelenbeld 1989; Wujastyk 2002). Among its various medical applications, the aphrodisiac properties of cannabis were highly commended.
A few centuries later, in the 16th century, cannabis (saṃvit/saṃvidā/vijayā) first appears for the first time in South Asian Tantric rites, particularly in north-east India (Sanderson (2003:365–366n.43). In the Kulārṇava Tantra (1999:80 [Ch. 5, v.43]), for example, cannabis (vijayā [victory]) is included in an intoxicating formula consumed for a Tantric rite. Aldrich (1977) discusses the use of cannabis for erotic purposes in Tantric rites, primarily based on references to the 17th/18thcentury Mahānirvaṇa Tantra (Aldrich assumes a date several centuries earlier). Cannabis and datura were also used in some Tantric Buddhist rites (Parker and Lux 2008). It is interesting to note that its aphrodisiac effects were particularly recommended in some Tantras for women participating in sexual rites. Moreau de Tours (1845:9) noticed that cannabis seems to have more effect on women than men.
Cannabis and libido
Recent research (Bhambhvani et al. 2020; see also the Seedsman blog by Ben Taub, 2020) confirms that cannabis usually increases libido and sexual satisfaction. In general, frequent or even daily use increases the aphrodisiac effect. However, interestingly and consistent with the sometimes ambivalent effects of cannabis, in India some Indian sādhus (holy men) who use cannabis in very great amounts—smoking up to 20 or 30 grammes a day—claim that cannabis helps them to maintain celibacy more easily.
This could perhaps be explained by some previous research, summarized by Block (2017). Very high-dose THC administered to mice reduced copulatory activity (Dalterio et al. 1978; Dalterio 1980); men using marijuana very frequently produce less testosterone (Kolodny et al. (1974); and sperm motility appears to be reduced by high-dose THC (Whan et al. 2006). However, in another study by Dalterio et al. (1977) mice given a low dose of cannabis maintained high levels of testosterone for up to an hour, while testosterone levels dropped sharply for those given very high doses.
Bhambhvani et al. (2020:2) also cite other studies of chronic, heavy use resulting in a decrease of libido. They observe that, “These contrasting reports of beneficial and detrimental sexual effects underscore the potential for cannabis to have either a positive or negative impact on sexuality.”
It seems that if cannabis is used continuously all day, from the time of waking until sleeping, then cannabis may diminish libido. However, even having a partial break in daily use, consuming only in the evening, for example, allows cannabis to continue to have its well-known and extremely enjoyable aphrodisiac effect; and very heavy users who take a break from consuming for a few days or a week may experience exceptional aphrodisiac effects when they resume consumption.
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