Whether smoked, ingested, inserted or smeared all over the body, many cultures over thousands of years have used cannabis in conjunction with sex. While today’s scientists (and, by extension, business owners) are eager to add “aphrodisiac” to cannabis’s many health benefits, the results—while positive—remain inconclusive. 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.
“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.”
She 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.”
From about the second century onward, Tantrism entered both Hinduism and Buddhism, and included ritual use of cannabis to lift people’s planes of consciousness and find oneness with each other. Tantric sex is not focused on pleasure or orgasm, but instead on a sense of absolute unity with each other and the universe at large.
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.”
Around 880 CE came the Viking Age and Norse deity Freya (also Freyja, Freyia and Freja), goddess of love and fertility who also protected flax and hemp fields. While there isn’t mention of getting high per se, the Encyclopedia of Aphrodisiacs (2013) says hemp fields were once a place for pagan and erotic rituals tied to sowing and reaping this valuable crop. One example takes place in Switzerland where, on the evening before midsummer (the summer solstice at the end of June), unmarried girls rolled naked in the community hemp field, weaving hemp leaves into wreaths before throwing them at the nearest tree: “the number of times the wreath fell back to the ground would be the number of years the girl would remain unmarried”.
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.”
Ah, ye olde Inquisition. Commencing in earnest in 1484, the mass persecutions 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.”
19th century America
Sex on the first night of marriage is rife with ceremony, and often anxiety. In 1851, “doctor” Frederick C. Hollick published his long-winded text: The Marriage Guide; or, Natural History of Generation: A Private Instructor for Married Persons and Those about to Marry, both Male and Female.
Basically a sex book for first-timers, Hollick’s manual encouraged readers to write to him for his patent aphrodisiac: a mixture made from hash which was readily available at American pharmacies at the time. Hollick was later debunked as a medical authority, but he’d already made his fortune with over 200 reprints of his book with access to his sexy recipe, according to Booth.
20th century Soviet Union
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”.
Weed and sex in the modern era
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.”