Talking about sex and sex drive can be awkward. Many people think that talking about sex is taboo—after all, what marijuana withdrawal have to do with libido? Because of these taboos and misconceptions, people often feel a sense of shame when it comes to talking about changes in sex drive. The truth is, though, that changes in libido are actually quite common in those that quit. Some studies indicate that nearly one third of users experience this withdrawal symptom during the cessation period (Levin, Drug Alcohol Depend, 2010). For some people, marijuana withdrawal causes decreases in sex drive, while for others, it actually increases sex drive. While 1 in 3 people may already seem like a lot, this likely still a vast underestimate of the true prevalence, since people are hesitant to report symptoms relating to sex.
Now that we’ve broken the silence, let’s take an even deeper dive.
Your libido, or sex drive, is influenced by both biologic and psychologic factors. From a the standpoint of the brain, sex drive is modulated by the interactions of several brain territories, the most important of these being the dopamine-driven reward center; CB1 activation by THC and natural cannabinoids therefore controls the release of many neurotransmitters that are key to sex physiology, including sexual arousal and sex drive (Klein, J Sex Med, 2012). This shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, as surveys indicate that acute marijuana use is associated with increased subjective sexual enjoyment (Dawley, J Clin Psychol, 1979). Not only are cannabinoid receptors found in the brain, though, they are also found in other sex hormone-producing organs like the adrenal glands and ovaries. After prolonged marijuana use, signaling through both these systems becomes altered. During withdrawal, dampened signals in the reward center, in particular, can make it difficult to achieve the same amount of sexual pleasure or even want to engage in sex at all.
There’s more to this story. Interestingly, studies of circulating cannabinoid levels in both animals and humans have shown that higher levels may actually be related to decreased sexual functioning (Lopez, Pharmacol Biochem Behav, 2009; Klein, J Sex Med, 2012). This may sound counterintuitive, but if you give it further thought, it provides a rationale for why many people actually report increased sex drive following cessation of marijuana.
Whether you end up feeling more or less excited about sex after you quit is going to depend on which of these opposing mechanisms has larger effect. Keep in mind that, in addition to the changing physiology that is happening in your brain and body, sex is intimately linked to your emotional state, your relationship dynamics, and a host of other extrinsic variables. The key to getting through what can seem like a physical and emotional rollercoaster is to be non-judgmental of yourself, and to communicate openly with your partner(s) about what you’re experiencing.
There you have it! Either way, rest easy knowing that your confusing, fluctuating libido is totally normal.