Things are getting pretty interesting in New York for people who believe in the right to toke up. In December, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo—who once considered weed a “gateway drug”— announced he wanted to legalize recreational weed use for adults.
And just a month earlier Michigan became the 10th state in the nation (plus the District of Columbia) to legalize recreational marijuana. Meanwhile, 33 states have now approved the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.
Currently, weed is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug by the federal government—meaning the feds don’t officially believe in its medical value and say there’s a high risk for abuse. But as access to cannabis has increased in recent years on the state level, researchers have become more interested in understanding the effects of marijuana use.
In a study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior earlier this year, a team of New York University researchers investigated whether or not there was an association between using marijuana and unsafe sexual behaviors. As part of their analysis, they looked to another, ah, influential substance that often plays a role in sex amongst younger people: alcohol. That’s because there’s plenty of research on the sexual risks associated with alcohol use. It is, after all, legal to buy in all 50 states.
The sample of participants in this study was small: The authors interviewed 24 adults between the ages of 18 to 35 (found via Craigslist New York City) who said they’d had sex while high within the past three months. Specifically, participants were asked to compare what sex is like after drinking alcohol compared to sex after using marijuana.
Overall, each participant had something different to say about these experiences, but there were some common themes. For example, many felt that being under the influence, whether it was via alcohol or weed, definitely impacted who they ended up sleeping with.
Alcohol, however, was more likely to impact that decision negatively. Not surprisingly, the most commonly reported feeling after drunk sex was regret. As one 34-year-old woman told researchers: “With weed I know who I’m waking up with. With drinking, you don’t know. Once you start drinking, everybody looks good.”
Many people in the study also described a difference in physical sensitivity during drunk sex vs. during high sex. “Alcohol tends to be a lot more numb,” a 27-year-old male participant told researchers. “Everything is sort of blunted and muted, whereas with marijuana it’s intensified. Any little touch is more arousing. The body sensations, particularly on sexual organs—it’s more of an intense sensation.”
As a result, these changes in sensation also appeared to impact the length and intensity of sex as well as orgasm. A 34-year-old female participant said she felt like her orgasms “magnified at least by five times” after partaking in ganja, while others noted they couldn’t climax while high because they couldn’t focus.
What’s really interesting, lead author and associate professor of population health Joseph J. Palamar told Inverse when the study first came out online in 2016, is that—for a couple of people at least—marijuana’s illegality seemed to play a role in their hookups.
“If you’re older than 21, you’re able to drink anywhere you want,” he reasoned. “But when it comes to marijuana, at least in most of the U.S., it has to be in a hidden area where you can’t get arrested. If you get someone to come home with you to smoke weed, there’s a way to facilitate getting a sexual connection, for better or for worse.”
What’s clear from this small study is that we need more researchers to investigate the effects of weed. “With regard to sexual risk behavior,” the study’s authors wrote, “the majority of participants felt that alcohol was riskier, sexually, than marijuana.” But without more empirical evidence, we can’t say that conclusively.