Seedsman Blog
Home » Cannabis as an Aphrodisiac

Cannabis as an Aphrodisiac

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) [1857], and the Frenchmen Jacques-Joseph Moreau de Tours (1845), Théophile Gautier (1969) [1846] and Charles Baudelaire (1969) [1860]—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. 


Aldrich, Michael R. (1977). ‘Tantric Cannabis Use in India’. Journal of Psychoactive

Drugs, vol. 9 (3), pp. 227–233.

Baudelaire, Charles (trans. Norman Cannon) (1969) [1860]. ‘An Excerpt from the

            Seraphic Theatre’. In David Soloman (ed.), The Marijuana Papers, pp. 219–

            231. London: Panther Books Ltd.

Bhambhvani, Hriday R., Alex M. Kasman, Genester Wilson-King, and Michael L.

            Eisenberg (2020). ‘A Survey Exploring the Relationship Between Cannabis

            Use Characteristics and Sexual Function in Men’. Sexual Medicine, June 16,

pp. 1–10.

Bell, John (1857). ‘On the Haschish or Cannabis Indica’. The Boston Medical and

            Surgical Journal, vol. LVI, no. 11, April 16th, pp. 209–216; vol. LVI, no. 12,

            April 23rd, pp. 229–236.

Block, Susan (2017). ‘Cannabis and Sex’. In Mark J. Estren (ed.), One Toke to God:

            The Entheogenic Spirituality of Cannabis, pp. 143–148. Malibu CA: Cannabis

            Spiritual Centre.

Dalterio, Susan L. (1980). ‘Perinatal or adult exposure to cannabinoids alters male

            reproductive functions in mice’. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior,

            vol. 12, issue 1 (January), pp. 143–153.

Dalterio, S., A. Bartke, and S. Burstein (1977). ‘Cannabinoids Inhibit Testosterone

            Secretion by Mouse Testes in Vitro’. Science, vol. 196, issue 4297 (June), pp.


Dalterio, S., A. Bartke, C. Robertson, D. Watson, and S. Burstein (1978). ‘Direct and

            pituitary-mediated effects of Δ9-THC and cannabinol on the testis’.

            Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, vol. 8, issue 6 (June), pp. 673–


Earlywine, Mitch (2002). Understanding Marijuana: A New Look at the Scientific

            Evidence. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press.

Gautier, Théophile (trans. Ralph J. Gladstone) (1969). ‘The Hashish Club’. In David

            Soloman (ed.), The Marijuana Papers, pp. 200–218. London: Panther Books


Kolodny, Robert C., William H. Masters, Robert M. Kolodner, and Gelsen Toro

            (1974). ‘Depression of Plasma Testosterone Levels after Chronic Intensive

            Marihuana Use’. The New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 290 (April), pp.


Kulārṇava Tantram (trans. and ed. Rām Kumār Rāy) (1999). Varanasi: Prachya


Lee, Martin A. (2012). Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana—Medical,

            Recreational, Scientific. New York/London/Toronto/Sydney/New Delhi:


Ludlow, Fitz Hugh (2015) [1857]. The Hasheesh Eater: Being Passages from the life

            of a Pythagorean. Los Angeles: Enhanced Media.

Mahanirvana Tantra (trans. and ed. Arthur Avalon) (2020) [1913]. Pinnacle Press.

Meulenbeld, Jan G. (1989). ‘The search for clues to the chronology of Sanskrit

            medical texts, as illustrated by the history of bhaṅgā (Cannabis sativa Linn.)’.

            Studien zur Indologie und Iranistik, vol. 15, pp. 59–70.

Moreau de Tours, Jacques-Joseph (1845). Du Hachisch et de l’Aliénation Mentale:

Études Psychologiques. Paris: Librairie de Forten, Masson et Co.

O’Shaughnessy, William Brooke (1843). ‘On the Preparations of the Indian Hemp, or

            Gunjah, (Cannabis Indica): Their Effects on the Animal System in Health, and

            their Utility in the Treatment of Tetanus and other Convulsive Diseases’.

            Provincial Medical Journal and Retrospect of the Medical Sciences, no. 123

            (Feb. 4th), pp. 363–369.

Parker, R. C., and Lux (2008). ‘Psychoactive Plants in Tantric Buddhism: Cannabis

            and Datura Use in Indo-Tibetan Esoteric Buddhism’. Erowid Extracts, no. 14

            (June), pp. 6–11.

Ropp, Robert S. de (1957). Drugs and the Mind. London: The Scientific Book Club.

Sanderson, Alexis (2003). ‘The Śaiva Religion among the Khmers, Part 1’. Bulletin

            de l’École français d’Extrême-Orient, vols. 90–91 (2003–2004), pp. 349–463.

Tart, Charles T. (1971). On Being Stoned: A Psychological Study of Marijuana

            Intoxication. Palo Alto, California: Science and Behavior Books.

Taub, Ben (2020). ‘Cannabis users have better sex, according to science’.

Cannabis Users Have Better Sex, According To Science

Whan, Lynne B., Mhairi C. L. West, Neil McClure, and Sheena E. M. Lewis (2006).

            ‘Effects of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the primary psychoactive

            cannabinoid in marijuana, on human sperm in vitro’. Fertility and Sterility,

            vol. 85, issue 3 (March), pp. 653–660.

Wujastyk, Dominic (2002). ‘Cannabis in Traditional Indian Medicine’. In A. Salema

            (ed.), Ayurveda at the Crossroads of Care and Cure: Proceedings of the Indo-

            European Seminar on Ayurveda held at Arrabida, Portugal, in November

            2001, pp. 45–73. Lisbon: Universidade Nova.

Cultivation information, and media is given for those of our clients who live in countries where cannabis cultivation is decriminalised or legal, or to those that operate within a licensed model. We encourage all readers to be aware of their local laws and to ensure they do not break them.

This post is also available in: French

Matthew Clark

Since 2004, Dr. Matthew Clark has been a Research Associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London), where he taught courses on Hinduism between 1999 and 2004. He has spent many years in India, which he first visited in 1977, visiting nearly all important (several hundred) pilgrimage sites and trekking around 2,000 miles in the Himalayas. He first engaged with yoga in the mid-1970s and began regularly practicing Ashtanga Yoga in 1990. Since 2006 has been lecturing worldwide on yoga, philosophy, and psychedelics. He is one of the editors of the Journal of Yoga Studies and is one of the administrators of the SOAS Centre of Yoga Studies. His publications include The Daśanāmī-Saṃnyāsīs: The Integration of Ascetic Lineages into an Order (2006), which is a study of a sect of sādhus; an exploration of the use of psychedelic plant concoctions in ancient Asia and Greece, The Tawny One: Soma, Haoma, and Ayahuasca (2017); and a short book on yoga, The Origins and Practices of Yoga: A Weeny Introduction (revised edition) (2018).