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Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding


The Report of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse

Marihuana and Sexual Behavior


Since the mid-1930's, Americans have, at one time or another, either acclaimed or decried marihuana as an aphrodisiac, lauded its ability to intensify and enhance enjoyment of sexual experiences and accused it of heightening sexual aggression and inciting the commission of sexual offenses. Even today, there is no consensus among Americans regarding what they consider to be the effects of marihuana on sexual desire, arousal and performance. Rather, what evidence exists on the subject continues to reveal the existence of diverse and often inconsistent beliefs and experiences.

Society's concern about the effects of marihuana on sexual behavior, however, does not generally center on the drug's inherent ability to produce or heighten sexual arousal per se but on the relationship between sexual arousal and the likelihood of sexual excess on the part of the user. The key question is the extent to which and the conditions under which marihuana acts as a catalyst to sexual aggression, profligacy, promiscuity and other aberrant sexual behavior.


The numerous medical and clinical observations, experimental investigations and survey studies reviewed by the Commission show that the belief regarding the stimulant effects of marihuana and the use of hemp drugs to achieve sexual arousal, the improvement of sexual powers and the prolongation of coition have existed for centuries and have be-en documented (Chopra and Chopra, 1939; Bouquet, 1950; Robinson, 1967; Grinspoon, 1971) ; The proportion of the population actually aroused sexually by marihuana, however, is difficult to assess. Relevant research findings are based on widely divergent research procedures, differing criteria of arousal, and variations in the amount of arousal experienced. Nonetheless, it is fair to state that marihuana produces heightened sexual interest, desire and arousal in substantial proportions of both male and female users (Bromberg, 1934; Allentuck, 1944; Johnson, 1968; Goode, 1969; Hochman and Brill, 1971). It is equally accurate to state, however, that marihuana does not increase and in fact may decrease sexual desire or stimulation in significant proportions of users (Walton, 1938; Chopra and Chopra, 1939; Taylor, 1963; Brenner, Coles and Meagher, 1970; Goode, in press). At best, the available evidence is inconclusive.

In a study of regular marihuana users conducted by three physicians, for example, "heightened sexual feeling" and "increased sexual arousal" while under the influence of the drug were reportedly experienced "usually" by one-third of the subjects (34%, and 33%, respectively) and each of these effects was experienced "occasionally" by 59% of the sample (Halikas, Goodwin and Guze, 1971).

In another more recent study by physicians, "increased sexual appetite" was reported by 60% of the chronic users and 43% of the occasional users of marihuana. Responses to a similar question regarding "decreased sexual appetite," revealed that 75% of the chronic users and 70% of the occasional users reported that this never occurred (Hochman and Brill, 1971).

The Mayor's Committee on Marihuana (1944) likewise attempted to assess the effects of marihuana on sexual interest and sexual stimulation. Its clinical studies of 72 male prisoners conducted at the Welfare Hospital in New York City revealed that "although there was an undeniable increase in overt sex interest following the ingestion of marihuana, . . . This sex interest seems to have been due primarily to the fact that these men have been imprisoned for various periods and had not had access to women" (p. 130). With respect to marihuana's effect on sexual stimulation the Committee indicated that although "some evidence of eroticism" was reported (in about 10% of the 150 instances in which marihuana was administered), there was no "frank expression of sexual stimulation" despite the presence of female nurses, attendants and others associated with the experiment (p. 38).

More recently, Professor Goode published the results of an informal survey of about 200 marihuana users in which he inquired about the relationship of marihuana to both sexual desire and sexual activity. To the question, "Do you think that being high on marihuana stimulates your sex interest, or not?", 38% said that their interest in sex while high was no different in degree from their normal interest in sex; 5% stated that being high on marihuana had a negative effect, i.e., that "it tended to turn them off sexually"; 13% replied that the effect depended on either their mood, their partner or both; and 44% (39% of the men and 50% of the women) reported that it "definitely increases their sexual desire" (1970: 162).

Perhaps the most conclusive and consistent finding to emerge from studies of the effects of marihuana on psychosexual stimulation is that the degree of sexual interest, desire and arousal induced by marihuana is dependent on the characteristics of the user and the extent to which he comes to expect or anticipate such an effect. Research shows that women are more likely to report heightened sexual desire than are men (Goode, 1969) ; that young people more frequently report arousal than do older persons (Bloomquist, 1968; Brenner, Coles and Meagher, 1970) ; 2 that frequent users are more likely to report increased sex interest than infrequent users (Goode, 1970) ; that persons who are more sexually experienced are more likely to be sexually aroused by marihuana than are those less sexually experienced (Brenner, Coles and Meagher, 1970; Hochman and Brill, 1971; Goode in press) and that those who expect to be sexually aroused by the drug are more likely to be so aroused than those who do not (Goode, 1969; Fort, 1970; Grinspoon, 1971).

There is nothing inherent in the drug itself which produces heightened sexual interest, desire or arousal, nor is there any physiological evidence to show that marihuana directly or specifically acts on either the, sexual centers of the brain or the sexual organs. As one observer has noted, marihuana "is not a sexual stimulant; that is, in the, sense that it will not excite mindless, laboratory-located animal tissue" (Goode, 1969: 20). In short, marihuana is not an aphrodisiac.


It has already been stated that marihuana is not, in itself, an aphrodisiac although a substantial number of persons report increased sexual interest, desire and arousal following use of the drug. To what, then, are these effects attributable? Research hearing on this question suggests that to the extent that marihuana influences these respouses, it does so indirectly by acting on the higher centers of the brain to relax inhibitions and reduce, the usual restraints on behavior. By so doing, the user is placed in the position of being freer to respond to his sexual needs and desires (Walton, 1938; Allentuck and Bowman, 1942; Ausubel, 1958; Brown, 1961; McGothlin, 1966; Rosevear, 1967; Bloomquist, 1968; Oursler, 1968; Goode, 1969; Fort, 1970). The extent to which these responses occur, however, are dependent upon individual expectation and knowledge (Fort, 1970) and the social situation (set and setting) in which the marihuana use takes place (Goode, 1969). As Professor Goode has stated, Man's somatic responses are often influenced more by what he thinks than by biological and chemical imperatives; in fact, it can happen that what he thinks actually becomes his biological and chemical imperative (1969, p. 20).

In addition to its effects on sexual inhibition and restraints (the extent and consequences of which will be examined later), marihuana is also reported to intensity aesthetic experiences and to enhance sensual activity. As one observer has noted, it is perhaps the principal effect of marihuana to take one more intensely into whatever experience - ." (Trocchi, 1967: 108).

One observer points out, however, that most of the users of marihuana in this country are youths between the ages of 14 and 25 and that "this age span needs no aphrodisiac to stimulate either interest or capacity to perform" (Bloomquist, 1968: 183).

It is this fact (which probably explains why substantial proportions of marihuana users characterize their sexual experiences under the influence of the drug as particularly intense, prolonged, sensuous and pleasurable (Johnson, 1968; Goode, 1969; Brenner, Coles and Meagher, 1970; Hochman and Brill, 1971; Tart, 1971; Abelson, et al., 1972).

In one study of marihuana users conducted by a psychologist, 65% reported a heightened sense of touch, 55% stated that "touch takes on new qualities," and 56% replied that "sexual orgasm was very often or usually more exciting than when "straight"' (Tart, 1971). Of the approximately 500 marihuana users surveyed by Goode, 68% (74% of the men and 62% of the women) reported that marihuana "Generally acted as a pleasure enhancer (and) usually increased their sexual enjoyment" (Goode, in press, pp. 8-9).

In still another study of marihuana users, both occasional and chronic, "increased sexual pleasure" was the second most common response, by the chronic users and the eighth most commonly reported effect by the occasional users; 83% of the former and 50% of the latter reported that increased sexual pleasure was often or always experienced after smoking marihuana.' Interesting too, was the finding that 85% of the chronic users and 78% of the occasional users reported never experiencing "decreased sexual pleasure" following use of the drug (Hochman and Brill, 1971:7).

In the Commission's National Survey, respondents were asked to indicate whether or not they believed that marihuana increases sexual pleasure. Of those adults admitting they had tried marihuana at least once (15%), 52% thought that the drug does increase sexual pleasure. Both adults and youth in general, however, seem to be less certain of this effect. Only about one-fourth of all respondents (24% of adults and 26% of youth) indicated agreement with the statement while slightly tinder one-half of those surveyed (48% of the adults and 49% of the youth) expressed uncertainty about marihuana's ability to increase sexual pleasure (Ableson, et al., 1972: 25-33).

3 The students were also asked to assess the degree of importance attached to a number of possible motivations for using marihuana. As might be expected from the findings regarding marihuana and sexual enjoyment, significantly more of the users than the nonusers attached at least some degree of importance to marihuana's perceived ability to enhance sexual experiences. To the item: "for better sexual experiences," 12% of the non-users, 40% of the occasional users and 70% of the chronic users felt that it was of some importance or "very" important in motivating use of the drug (Hochman and Brill, 1971).

The research bearing on the effects of marihuana on sexual pleasure suggests that marihuana is not usually perceived by the general public to increase sexual enjoyment, that users are significantly more likely to believe that marihuana has this effect than are non-users, that those who expect to receive increased sexual pleasure are more likely to experience it than those who do not, and that frequent or regular users are significantly more likely to have actually experienced this effect than are those who use the drug less frequently.


As noted at the beginning of this discussion, society in general and policy makers in particular are primarily concerned about the extent to which and the conditions tinder which marihuana is likely to generate or increase, the likelihood of sexually aberrant or aggressive behavior. Marihuana has already been shown to increase psychosexual stimulation in substantial proportions of users and to serve as a relaxer of inhibitions and restraints. The questions as yet unresolved, however, relate to (a) the importance of sexual arousal in generating sexual activity-particularly deviant sexual acts, and (b) the extent to which inhibitions and restraints, which normally serve to protect the individual and society from sexual excess and abuse, are lowered by marihuana to the point of being inoperative.

The available evidence suggests that (a) although marihuana users are more sexually active and sexually permissive than are nonusers, marihuana does not generally stimulate sexual activity, appreciably alter established patterns of sexual behavior or serve as a catalyst to sexual promiscuity; (b) the marihuana user is rarely sexually aggressive; and (c) persons arrested for marihuana law violations generally do not have previous or subsequent criminal records for the commission of sexual offenses (Walton, 1938; Brown, 1961; White House Conference on Narcotic Drug Abuse, 1962; Blunt et al., 1969; Bremner, Coles and Meagher, 1970; Goode, 1972; Goode, in press).

Before summarizing the research forming, the basis of these assertions, however, it should be noted that there, are several contradictory research findings with respect to (a) above. In one recent study, for example, two Philadelphia physicians investigating the effects of marihuana on adolescents and young adults reported that the drug was directly responsible for sexual promiscuity in 13 of their female patients. In the words of these clinicians:

This group is singled out because of the unusual degree of sexual promiscuity, which ranged from sexual relations with several individuals of both sexes, and, sometimes, individuals of both sexes on the same evening. In histories of all of these individuals, we were struck by the loss of sexual inhibitions after short periods of marihuana smoking. Seven patients of this group became pregnant (one on several occasions), and four developed venereal diseases. . . . In no instance was there sexual promiscuity prior to the beginning of marihuana smoking. . . . We take these results to indicate marihuana's effects on loosening the superego controls and altering superego ideals (Kolansky and Moore, 1971: 491).

During 1970, another researcher (Goode, in press) distributed questionnaires on drug use to between 500 and 600 undergraduates in a large lecture course at a State University. Four measures of sexual activity were employed: (1) engagement in premarital intercourse, (2) the respondent's total number of different sexual partners, (3) the age of first intercourse and (4) the average frequency of intercourse during the six months prior to the study. The three indices of drug use employed were whether or not the respondent had ever smoked marihuana, the frequency of marihuana use during the six months prior to the survey, and the total number of drugs or drug types ever used by the respondent. The researcher found that "all measures of sexual activity correlated significantly -and powerfully with all measures of drug use" (p. 12). More specifically, marihuana users were far more likely to have engaged in premarital intercourse (72%) than were non-users (34%) ; the greater the frequency of marihuana use and the greater the number of drugs ever tried, the earlier was the first intercourse, the greater was the frequency of intercourse and the greater was the number of sexual partners.

As the researcher suggests, one might be tempted to conclude from these findings that marihuana, as well as other drugs, causes early sex, frequent sex and sex with a number of different partners were it not for the fact that similar findings point to a relationship in the opposite direction. That is, not only were marihuana users and drug experimenters more likely to experience sex early in their lives, but "it is also the sexually precocious who are more likely to use drugs, including marihuana" (p. 14). Of all respondents reporting intercourse by age 16, for example, 7% stated that they had never tried any illegal drug, but total absence of illicit drug use was found in 47% of the virgins (p. 14).

Professor Goode concludes that "using marihuana or other illegal drugs no more 'causes' sexual behavior than sexual behavior 'causes' drug use" (p. 14). Rather, he suggests,

Both sexual permissiveness and marihuana use as well as, to some extent, experimentation with certain other illegal drugs-are indicators of the young person's involvement in and with a subculture which is tolerant toward a wide range of nontraditional values and activities . . . Quite clearly, marihuana use grows out of a specific life style, which is, in turn, partly dependent on specific sociocultural background factors and permissive sexual behavior (branded as "promiscuous" by those who disapprove of it) is a part of this life style (pp. 14, 16).

Similar to Goode's findings are those obtained from a mail survey of 1400 undergraduate students at UCLA (Hochman and Brill, 1971). The data show that marihuana users have their first sexual experience earlier than do non-users (50% of the users and 30% of the non-users had their first experience before age 18) ; have more sexual experience than non-users; have a greater number of sexual partners than do nonusers (twice as many users as non-users had five or more sexual partners) ; and have more liberal attitudes toward sex than do non-users.

One of the questions asked of the students was: "In your experience or opinion, do you think that marihuana usage over a long period results in sexual promiscuity?" Over half of the non-users (54%) and almost three-fourths (73%) of the users believed this happened rarely or not at all while 12% of the nonusers, 3% of the occasional users and 2% of the chronic users believed that extended use of marihuana frequently leads to sexual promiscuity.

Although the users more often suffered from venereal disease than did the nonusers (7% vs. 2%), there were no differences between the groups in the average frequency of sexual intercourse, the number of concurrent sexual partners, the number of pregnancies, miscarriages and illegitimacies, or the incidence of homosexuality.

A more middle-of-the-road position regarding the association between use of marihuana and sexual promiscuity was revealed in a Commission sponsored mail survey of 781 judges, probation officers and court clinicians (InTech, 1971). In an effort to develop a profile of the regular marihuana. user, respondents were asked: "In light of your professional experience, do you, think all, most, some or just a, few of the people who regularly use marihuana are sexually promiscuous?"

Tabulation of the responses revealed, among all three groups, considerable uncertainty and ambivalence as manifested in the findings that 23% of the total sample either did not answer the question or stated that they did not know, and that three-fifths of those who responded (70%) would answer no more categorically than to say that only some" could be characterized in this manner. The percentages of each of the three groups of respondents stating that all or most, some and few or none of the regular marihuana users are sexually promiscuous are shown in Table 4.

The Commission has found several studies dating from 1939 which support the assertions that the marihuana user is rarely sexually aggressive and that he rarely has a criminal record for the commission of sexual offenses.

A survey of the criminal records of 379 Greek offenders either sentenced or arrested for the public use of hashish between 1919 and 1950 (Gardikas, 1950) revealed no link between the use of hashish and the commission of sexual offenses.

Lambo (1965) compiled a list of crimes which occurred during a recent two-year period in three West African countries. Of the 472 "offences against women" committed during the period of study, 26% were claimed to have been committed by users of cannabis.

In a, study conducted by the Kinsey Institute for Sex Research, 1500 incarcerated sex offenders were interviewed about their sexual offenses. The researchers found that in marked contrast to the role of alcohol in the commission of their offenses, particularly aggressive sex crimes, marihuana was a very insignificant factor. While the presence of alcohol was reported in relation to 67% of all sexually aggressive acts against children and 39% of such aggressive acts against adult women, marihuana was mentioned in only eight sexual offenses out of a total of 2,022 such offenses committed by the respondents (Gebbard, Gagnon, Pomeroy and Christenson, 1967: 761-819).

Two recent systematic studies of rape cases recorded by the police in Philadelphia (Amir, 1971) and Denver (MacDonald, 1971) gave no indication that marihuana was specifically linked to these offenses. It should be noted, however, that the involvement of marihuana in these cases, unlike the involvement of alcohol, was not specifically explored.


(Figures in Percentages)

All or Some Few or

most none

Judges (N =408) 23.8 58.3 17.9

Probation Officers (N=87) 21.9 58.6 19.5

Clinicians (N = 106) 11.3 65.1 23.6

Total (N=701) 21.3 59.6 19.1

In two Commission-sponsored studies of the relationship between marihuana and crime, no evidence was found to suggest that marihuana is a significant factor in or contributor to the commission of sexual offenses. A study of 1,776 youthful offenders (16 to 21 years of age) arrested for marihuana law violations in five New York counties between 1965 and 1969 revealed that none of the offenders had either a previous or subsequent criminal record for the commission of sexual offenses (Weitzner, et. al., 1971).

In another study sponsored by the Commission, interviews with 559 male residents (16 to 34 years of age) of West Philadelphia, revealed that six respondents, or about one in 100, admitted to having committed the offense of "forcing sexual intercourse," three having reportedly committed it more than once but none having been apprehended for these offenses (Goode, 1972; 29a).

In an effort to assess the role of marihuana in these offenses, respondents were asked whether or not they had used the drug within the 24 hours preceding the commission of both their first and most recent offenses. In contrast to alcohol, which was reported to have been consumed within 24 hours prior to one-third of the first and most recent offenses of forcing sexual intercourse (two out of six and one out of three, respectively), none of the offenders reported smoking marihuana within 24 hours of either the first or most recent time they committed this offense (Goode, 1972: 29a).

Research findings which are available lend little support to the thesis that marihuana either causes or is a significant factor in the heightening of sexual aggression or the commission of sexual offenses.


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Marihuana, A Signal of Misunderstanding