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Masturbation & Orgasm: How Sex & Cannabis Are Intertwined

Masturbation & Orgasm: How Sex & Cannabis Are Intertwined

Articles

Masturbation & Orgasm: How Sex & Cannabis Are Intertwined

by HelloMD

A year ago


Masturbation & Orgasm: How Sex & Cannabis Are Intertwined

The human body is hardwired to encourage behaviors—such as eating, exercising and sexual activity—that are good for it. Those things that support health and the survival of the species are rewarded through powerful messages to the brain’s pleasure-reward-memory circuits. Now, research reveals that the recently discovered endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a driving force behind that messaging, particularly where sex is concerned.

According to a widely reported study from Germany originally published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine in November 2017, masturbating to orgasm can trigger the production of a potent natural cannabinoid called 2-arachidonoylglycerol, or 2-AG for short. When that happens, 2-AG activates receptors in the brain’s pleasure circuit, sending messages to do that again, because it feels good. This study had limitations, but it revealed new insights about the functions of the body’s far-flung network of cannabinoid receptors—and how cannabis can be useful for enhancing sexual activity and helping people overcome sexual dysfunctions.

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This Is Your Body on Endocannabinoids

The ECS is one of many systems in the body that are made up of G-protein coupled receptor (GPCR) systems. These networks of cells are stimulated to send messages in response to the presence of a trigger such as a protein or a peptide. ECS receptors are found throughout the tissues, organs and many areas of the brain (except the brainstem), and research suggests that it might be the most densely populated receptor system in the body.

RELATED: WHAT IS THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM?

The ECS plays a major role in maintaining homeostasis, or balance, among the body’s many different processes. That includes maintaining body temperature, supporting the functions of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, moderating pain and boosting the immune system.

So far, research has discovered two different cannabinoid receptors called, imaginatively enough, CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are prevalent in the brain, spinal cord and parts of the digestive system, while CB2 receptors occur in organs and tissues throughout the body. These receptors respond in the presence of a group of natural cannabinoids that are produced during activities such as exercise, meditation and sexual activity.

With the possible exception of the opioid receptor system, each of the body’s GPCR receptor systems is generally primed to respond to a single ligand—a molecule that’s able to bind to another molecule on the cell’s surface. But the ECS has not just one, but two ligands.

The most abundant of those natural cannabinoids is anandamide, named after the Sanskrit word for bliss, ananda. The other is 2-AG. The fact that both of these chemicals can trigger responses in the ECS is one of the many reasons the ECS is unique in its scope and power to affect a long list of physical processes and health conditions.

Anandamide and 2-AG can be activated independently of each other and can attach to different receptors. CB1 is triggered primarily by anandamide, and CB2 by 2-AG. The German study revealed that during sexual activity these natural cannabinoids behave differently. This offers new insights into the relationship between cannabinoids and sexual response.

The natural cannabinoids in the cannabis plant are so similar to the ones produced by the body itself that they bind to the same receptors, so that cannabis compounds such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are able to trigger the same responses in the brain and body. That explains why cannabis can be used to treat a long and growing list of many very diverse health conditions—and why it can affect sexual responses as well.

Masturbation, Orgasm & 2-AG

Sexual activity of all kinds sends messages to the brain’s pleasure, reward and memory circuit, stimulating the release of dopamine, often called the “feel good” chemical. It can also release oxytocin, another chemical that triggers feelings of closeness, affection and relationship. In the brain, these messages encode the experience as pleasant and worth repeating. But it wasn’t until relatively recently that researchers learned that the ECS may be the driving force behind the kind of positive messaging that ensures people keep doing the activity.

Sexual activity, like exercise, ramps up the production of endocannabinoids. Researchers believed that the one most frequently produced was anandamide, well known for its feel-good properties. But when researchers looked closely at the blood plasma levels of a group of volunteers willing to masturbate for science, they found that the body actually expressed higher levels of 2-AG.

Because the ECS responds not only to the endocannabinoids produced by the body, but also to ones consumed in various kinds of cannabis products, this study and related research suggest the connection between orgasm and 2-AG. Since 2-AG rewards the brain for having an orgasm, this encourages the body to do it again. This means that cannabis could be helpful in treating sexual problems such as loss of libido or erectile dysfunction. Hopefully, more research on the subject will be forthcoming.

Can Cannabis Enhance Sexual Activity?

The 2017 German study was based on the experience of a group of volunteers who masturbated, but other studies exploring how cannabis affects sex have generally focused on whether—and how—cannabis affects sexual activities with partners. Cannabis in all of its forms typically promotes relaxation and reduces anxiety, which can boost positive feelings. The plant’s effects on the ECS can trigger the release of a variety of chemicals related to the pleasure-reward-memory circuits in the brain.

Research remains to be done on the specific ways in which the ECS—and cannabis—can affect sexual activity of all kinds. But the results are in: Whether you’re with a partner or going solo, the compounds in cannabis can send the right messages to the body and brain.

Photo credit: Viliman Viliman

If you’re new to cannabis and want to learn more, take a look at our Cannabis 101 post. HelloMD can help you get your medical marijuana recommendation; it's easy, private and 100% online.

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