Can CBD Help Improve Sexual Function?

CBD is everywhere and if you listen to some people, CBD is a “miracle molecule” that can positively affect overall health, improve your creativity, focus and awareness, allow you to sleep better, relieve pain and headaches, cure cancer, improve your sexual function (male or female) and make your coffee in the morning. Well, all except that last one!

Let’s first look at the natural endocannabinoid system, also known as the ECS. This is primarily the system that plant cannabinoids like CBD act on. 

The Endocannabinoid System in Humans

CBD Help Improve Sexual Function

By 1988, it was known that the human brain has receptors for phytocannabinoids ie. cannabinoids from the cannabis plant like CBD and THC. These receptors, think of these as locks while cannabinoids are the key – are the most common type of receptor found in the human brain.  Around the same time, two different sets of receptors for the endocannabinoid system were described, these are known as CB1 and CB2. There may be more receptors, but for now, these are the important ones. The most common natural “keys” for the ECS are the endocannabinoids anandamide (sometimes known as N-arachidonoylethanolamine (AEA)), and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). 

The ECS in humans and other animals plays an important role in modulating several physiological processes including appetite regulation, pain perception, the immune system, mood, memory, sleep, inflammation, sensitivity to the effects of insulin and both fat and energy metabolism. Ultimately, the ECS plays an important role in maintaining physiological balance or homeostasis.

CB1 and CB2 have distinct locations in the body and distinct functions. 

CB1 Receptors and Function

CB1 receptors are found mostly in the brain and the spinal cord. 

The CB1 receptors are associated with cognitive and behavioral effects like:

  • Memory
  • Cognition
  • Emotion
  • Control of the muscles
  • Appetite
  • Pain perception
  • Sleep
  • Controlling the brain’s “reward” system

Anandamide binds to CB1 receptors and is often called the “bliss” molecule.  THC binds to CB1 as well, producing the “high” and psychotropic effects. CBD doesn’t bind well to CB1.

CB2 Receptors and Function

The CB2 receptors are found on peripheral nerves in the body, skin cells and on cells of the immune system.  The CB2 receptors play roles in the immune system, inflammation, wound healing, and muscular and joint pain and pain relief. CBD can affect the function of the CB2 receptors but not by binding directly – CBD appears to bind in such a way as to modify how the CB2 receptor binds to other endocannabinoids. CBD acts as a sort of molecular “dimmer” switch – sometimes it increases the effect of the endocannabinoid while other times it decreases the effects. 

CB2 receptors are also found in both the male and female reproductive organs and cells including the uterus, sperm, testes and prostate.  The CB2 receptors are also found in the developing embryo.

What are the Effects of CBD?

Research is really in the earliest stages, but CBD has a variety of effects including:

  • Antispasmodic
  • Anti-anxiety
  • Anti-nausea
  • Anti-arthritic
  • Anti-psychotic
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Immunomodulation
  • Pain relief
  • Sleep
  • Antioxidant
  • As a neuroprotective agent

CBD and CBD Receptors in Reproductive Organs and the Potential Effects of CBD on Sexual Function 

CB2 receptors are also found in both the male and female reproductive organs and cells including the uterus, sperm, testes and prostate.  The CB2 receptors are also found in the developing embryo.

Now, most of the studies have been done in mice and it is always a question whether you can safely assume that sexual behaviors are similarly controlled in mice and humans. 

However, with that said, it appears that chronic CBD exposure decreases sexual function and fertility in male mice. 

Other studies indicate that while CBD can decrease sexual function and fertility, the fact that it also decreases anxiety may mean that the net effect is increased sexual functioning. 

Confused?  Well, it’s no wonder- ultimately, as you have probably heard before, we need more research before we know for certain.  It is possible, first, that human males and mouse males don’t respond in the same way. It is also possible that dosage levels used in the mouse studies were not comparable to the dosage a “typical” CBD user was using.  Finally, many of these studies were primarily looking at the effects of THC and the effects of purified CBD may be quite different. 

How about effects on female sexual function?  Well, again, more research needs to be done and most of the research regarding female sexual function was more focused on the effects of THC versus those of CBD. One paper looked at the levels of endocannabinoids and sexual arousal in women and found that the ECS is important in female sexual function – this, however, is not the same thing as saying that a phytocannabinoid – CBD – will impact female sexual function.  There have been some suggestions in various articles using this paper as a reference that this meant that CBD would positively affect female sexual function but it is somewhat similar to saying that if you like oranges you will definitely like grapefruit – they are in the same family after all. It may or may not be true, but it is a pretty big scientific leap!  Let’s put it another way. Aspirin was originally derived from willow bark. Aspirin is very useful for many things, but it can cause stomach ulcers. Willow bark has similar chemical substances but has not been reported to cause stomach ulcers – similar substances can act very differently! As a matter of fact, the best example may be THC and CBD – chemically, they are very similar, but we know that the effects are quite different! 

However, there has been some data published from questionnaires and these have indicated that marijuana – in moderate doses – improves overall female sexual function.  These same studies indicated that marijuana use increases sexual desire more in women than in men, but in a significant number in both genders. Significant numbers of women also reported increased sexual satisfaction after marijuana use. Again, these studies were looking at marijuana use, not CBD use. 

None of this answers the original question around CBD and increased sexual function, but it DOES suggest that there may be a role for CBD to play in improving sexual function for both males and females. 

But the Story Doesn’t End There…

We all know that sexual function is much more complicated than we might sometimes like!  All sorts of things can affect both male and female function.

Anxiety, for example, can interfere with sexual function.  Here, the research on CBD is much clearer. Recent studies have indicated that CBD can decrease anxiety scores in a significant number of both men and women.  A recent review published in the journal Neurotherapeutics indicated that “CBD has considerable potential as a treatment for multiple anxiety disorders, with need for further study of chronic and therapeutic effects in relevant clinical populations.”

Blood flow issues play a role in erectile dysfunction or ED. CBD may play a role in worsening the symptoms of ED – a recent review indicated that cannabis (not CBD) use increased the risk of ED by as much as four times – in other words, four times as many cannabis users had ED when compared to non-cannabis users.  

Sexual activity can be painful for some men and women – many have aching joints, difficulty moving or are experiencing so much pain that sexual activity isn’t uppermost in their minds.  CBD can relieve pain and may therefore allow people to enjoy sex more.

CBD has some well-known anti-inflammatory properties – this may, in theory, help with some forms of sexual function.

Finally, CBD can improve your mood and increase your concentration, memory and your ability to focus.  Think about that for a moment – have you ever had a partner who would object to you being in a better mood, concentrating on her or him and remembering that special date or song?  Probably not – but this may be one of the more important benefits of CBD in sexual function!

So, What’s the Answer?

You may be feeling confused at this point and I wouldn’t blame you. The answer to whether CBD may improve sexual function is not at all clear at this point. The best answer seems to be that it may – it may improve sexual function and libido for some and not for others. It may do this directly or indirectly by decreasing anxiety, reducing pain or by improving your mood – or there may be other actions that we are not aware of. So – if you want to try it, go ahead! After all, CBD might help you enjoy sexual functions in ways we haven’t thought of!