Ian van Veen Shaughnessy is the CEO of Rare Industries in Oregon. Besides running the company, he also is a devoted chemist, who is, right now, working with his team to develop water- and silicone-based cannabis lubricants.
There's already Foria—the popular (or at least popularly written about) THC-infused oil marketed to enhance women's sexual health and pleasure. Although the product was talked about in the media as a lube, it actually works like a pre-lube: It's a coconut oil product you spray on an hour before sex, or habitually every morning. Because it's oil-based, Foria will also dissolve latex condoms. So Shaughnessy and his team are trying to create condom-friendly lubricants that also get you stoned.
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"We have the same fundamental issues that Foria does, which is the transdermal uptake of THC and CBD," Shaughnessy explains. "You have minimum an hour until it processes. Skin does what it does," which is protect the body from outside substances. With Shaughnessy's product, test subjects used about 2-4 grams per sexual interaction, yet don't report feeling that stoned euphoria until way after they have orgasmed. Before his new lubricant will launch, it will also have to go through a rigorous testing period to experiment with dosage. Shaughnessy and his team are trying to even out their emulsions so every pump of their product has equal portions of lubricant and THC.
Rare Industries is a collection of extractors and chemists, not growers, but they are self-proclaimed "hippies" who believe in the molecular science of cannabis products and how it can enhance a person's sex life. Shaughnessy used to work in a distillery making gin and various spirits, but he traded alcohol and the midwest for the west coast when cannabis laws started to change. He wanted to be a part of the science and research in this growing fringe industry. Besides, he says, "ethanol is more fundamentally destructive than cannabis."
"Cocaine, any amphetamines, ethanol—these drugs depress your sense of empathy. Whiskey dick is a thing for a reason," Shaughnessy laughs. "Cocaine is one of the worst. It creates a monstrous, tremendous depression of your empathy. Cannabis does the opposite. There are not very many natural drugs that actually do this. Cannabis has a unique place in the sexual pantheon because, unlike ethanol, which dulls your senses and makes you self-attuned, cannabis makes you more aware of the moment you are in with that other person."
Research around the relationship between cannabis and sexual desire is contentious, clouded with myths. "The effects [of cannabis] are not guaranteed," says Joshua Ahn, who studies marijuana for the International Cannabinoid Research Society. "Effects differ drastically according to an individual's biology, more than [with] other drugs. It literally causes both excitation and inhibition on a molecular level, whereas other compounds tend to cause one or the other. In some people the excitation will be more pronounced, and in some people, the inhibition will be greater."
Ahn disputes any myth that marijuana causes impotence in men. "THC is a vasodilator," he says. "It opens up the blood flow. Alcohol, by comparison, is a vasoconstrictor when taken in large amounts. The only way I imagine someone loosing a boner from cannabis would be from over-thinking or paranoia."
Ahn acknowledges that, throughout history, people have used cannabis as an aphrodisiac, but there is not a lot of published science about sexual function and THC. One 2007 study, which used rats, found that rodents had increased erections when their cannabinoid receptors were blocked, while another questioned the positive effects of blocking these receptors.
"This is classic cannabis controversy politics," Ahn says. "They know those studies on rats do not necessarily carry over to humans, but by urging caution they are upholding stigmas against cannabis. I honestly feel like more research into receptors in this area of the human body will show a net benefit on sexual response, most likely connected to vasodilation and psychological stimulation."
The only way I imagine someone loosing a boner from cannabis would be from over-thinking or paranoia.
Right now, the medical world is obsessed with CBD (or cannabidiol), which is an active cannabinoid that causes a calm, relaxed feeling. Shaughessy explains that traditionally all cannabis has CBD, but as criminal laws stiffened around the drug, growers began breeding marijuana to be the craziest stuff around. "If you are going to go jail for growing weed, you want to grow the craziest stuff you can," Shaughnessy says. "Growers not only bred weed for higher potency, but they bred the CBD out of it. Now, we are re-discovering CBD. Kind of like when the British navy re-discovered that limes prevent scurvy."
Unlike THC, CBD is an anti-psychotic. In 2013, CNN reported that CBD had been successful in quelling a young Colorado girl's frequent, severe seizures, and other research has shown that CBD help certain symptoms in patients with Parkinson's disease.
Shaughnessy points out that the public really does not understand how cannabinoids work in the human body. When Shaughnessy explains it to me, he blasts through chemical names—terpenes, limonene, beta-caryophyllene—like he's reading a grocery list. I barely catch the terminology as he rattles it off. So let's cut to the chase, I say. What I really want to know is if he thinks weed makes sex better, or worse.
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"I don't think these inherent 'problems' with cannabis and sex are specific to cannabis," Shaughnessy says, though he says he can only speak from personal experience; the data just is not there. "They are just problems with sex. This shit just happens."
"I can tell you without a doubt [weed] has a positive effect [on sex]," Ahn says. "Personally, I find this to be largely due to the psychological effects. Unlike other compounds, like alcohol and stimulants, [weed] doesn't interfere with blood flow. It does the opposite and enhances it." But he also insists that marijuana has a learning curve. Ahn explains that cannabis can make experiences always feel new. If this effect is too pronounced for rookie users and they feel uncomfortable, that could easily derail a sexual situation. The extreme focus that Shaughnessy was talking about.
"I recall being a shy, 17-year-old fool, and this girl I had a crush on invited me to her apartment," remembers Ahn. "We got stoned together, and suddenly I got so worried about how I was acting in front of her that I just split without any good reason. This obviously weirded her out."