Cannabis, Terpenes, and Sex - A Lengthy History
Posted by Jack O'Leary on
Whether smoked, ingested, inserted or smeared all over the body, many cultures over thousands of years have used cannabis (and terpenes) in conjunction with sex. While today’s scientists and, by extension, business owners, are eager to add “aphrodisiac” to cannabis’s many health benefits. Vancouver Island-based sex therapist Kim Switnicki suggests the intentions set while using cannabis have a lot to do with whether it makes sex better, or not. However, most cannabis users know that the plant alters sensory perception in a variety of profound ways.
“If it works, great! But is it really cause and effect? Is it any different from other intentions, such as looking into each other’s eyes,” she asks. “If you vape to have better sex, you’re setting an intention already.” Switnicki says the same thing applied in ancient times, when drugs and herbs were used in ceremonial rituals that ultimately ended with sex. “Again, maybe there was something in the substance, but the ritual aspect is similar to intention.”
What we do know is humans the world over have been mixing cannabis with carnal activity for millennia. Here are just some examples of ancestral ceremony, sex, and euphoria:
Priapus, Greek god of the erect penis, “was profoundly influential in Roman religion” writes David Hillman in Seeking the Sacred with Psychoactive Substances (2014). To seek the prophetic words of a devoted Priapus priestess, men had to undergo a purification process with a drug concoction called satyrion—a mixture of snake venom, alcohol, ivy, and cannabis to bring on a hallucinogenic haze.
In the ritual, young priestesses of Priapus would tie up the hands and legs of prophetic seekers—Hillman notes likely to avoid being raped—before rectally inserting a satyrion-medicated dildo. The result was a forced erection (aka priapic erection) and mind-bending high. He writes: “These young, postpubertal witches, who were themselves under the influence of drugs, were charged with the task of reciting oracles while using medicated dildos to manually bring psychotic, forcefully erect initiates to orgasm.”
At the same time, cannabis was also used to suppress sex in Ancient Rome. Greek physician and Roman army doctor Pedanius Dioscorides noted in his text, De Materia Medica (On Medical Matters, circa AD 70) the cannabis used in the making of rope “also produced a juice that was used to treat earache and suppress sexual longing.”
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In The Great Book of Hemp (1996), Rowan Robinson references academic Ernest Abel’s modern-day observations: “the cannabis prelude to yogic sex would begin ninety minutes before intercourse. With a bowl of bhang before them, the devotees would chant the mantra 'Om hrim'—which invokes the image of the goddess Kali, to whom the sex is consecrated—and plead for occult power, or siddhi. Following several more mantras, the seekers would drink the mixture and engage in ritual love making.”
Authors Rätsch and Müller-Ebeling note the local boys would certainly have known when and where this marriage oracle was taking place, and it can be assumed the young people found each other among the hemp. They also quote this telling Old Germanic love charm: “Hemp, I sow you; hemp, I reap you, and my heart’s love shall come behind me and harvest me.”
Commencing in earnest in 1484, the mass persecutions of the Great Inquisition quickly spread throughout Europe and lasted centuries. Herbalists and healers of the time used cannabis for an assortment of ailments, including low libido, until Pope Innocente VIII banned the use of hemp in ritual, classifying it as heretical.
Another fear of the day was the so-called satanic mass, or witches’ sabbath: supposedly a nocturnal event where witches gathered, feasted, and had flagrant intercourse while high on a mixture of cannabis and available herbs such as opium, hemlock, and belladonna.
While this sounds a little like Scandinavia’s romp in the hemp noted above, in Cannabis, A History (2015), Martin Booth writes this cannabis mixture “supposedly aided in driving the satanists into an ecstatic frenzy, making them hungry and acting as an aphrodisiac to ready them for their orgies. When not employed ritually, hemp seed oil was purportedly a major constituent of ‘flying ointment’ that which witches used to ‘ride their broomsticks’.”
On said flying ointment, researchers now believe it was a real thing, applied intravaginally via broomsticks for pleasure, pain management, or probably both. As the centuries wore on, Booth writes “the continued use of [cannabis] as a medicine and for magical purposes was common knowledge, but few ever spoke about it openly for fear their words might reach the Inquisitor’s ear.”
In spite of cannabis being outlawed by the Soviet Union, a centuries-old recipe to assist young brides on their wedding night was still being used in Uzbekistan as late as the 1930s, as noted by Polish anthropologist Sula Benet. In Ethan Russo’s Cannabis Treatments in Obstetrics and Gynecology (2002), he references Benet’s research from the capital city of Tashkent where cannabis, called nasha, was mixed with lamb fat and applied vaginally “to reduce the pain of defloration” (and, one would hope, to enhance pleasure). In the same area, Benet noted women also made a confection for themselves called guc-kand, a mixture of boiled cannabis with sugar and spices, to put them in a “happy mood”.
Whether you also want to commune with the gods of lust or simply enhance your mortal sex life, Switnicki says cannabis can be a great tool for today’s couples. “The bottom line for me is, if cannabis use helps you feel more comfortable engaging in fully consensual sexual activity on your own terms, then go for it.”
It’s a common claim among marijuana enthusiasts that the plant can boost sexual arousal and even lead to more powerful orgasms. There is now a study which supports such claim. ‘It has been postulated that it leads to improvement in sexual function simply by lowering stress and anxiety,’ researchers explain in the new paper, published to the journal Sexual Medicine.
The study led by a team at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine reviewed self-reported survey responses from 373 women. About 47 percent of the participants indicated that they were marijuana smokers, and of this group, 34 percent noted that they used it before sex.
To find out how pot use factors into sexual satisfaction, the researchers developed a Sexual Health Survey addressing a broad variety of topics, including sex drive, lubrication, and the presence of sex-related pain. ‘To limit bias, the authors embedded the questions about marijuana deeper into the questionnaire,’ the paper notes. In reviewing the data, the researchers found significant differences in the participants’ reported sexual experiences depending on whether they used marijuana beforehand or not.
‘Most women reported increases in sex drive, improvement in orgasm, decrease in pain, but no change in lubrication,’ the researchers wrote.
These differences translate to 2.13 higher odds of reporting ‘satisfactory orgasms’ for women who smoke pot. ‘Marijuana appears to improve satisfaction with orgasm,’ the team concluded.
‘Women who used marijuana before sex and those who used more frequently were more than twice as likely to report satisfactory orgasms as those who did not use marijuana before sex or used infrequently,’ the researchers wrote in the paper. ‘Our study is consistent with past studies of the effects of marijuana on sexual behaviour in women.'
Sex involves all of our senses at once — probably no other activity is as sensory all-inclusive as sex, so it makes sense that humans have been using the plant throughout history. With its ability to magnify senses, cannabis not only is a natural orgasm aid, but orgasm enricher. And substances that dampen senses, like alcohol? They may lower inhibitions in such a way that people engage with sex.
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