Across cultures and throughout recorded history, healers and hedonists long have used cannabis. Now, as the spheres of health and pleasure converge, cannabis and sexuality are riding the wellness wave straight into the mainstream.
The merging of cannabis and sex is creating a tantalizing opportunity the industry is only beginning to explore in earnest. From infused intimate oils to decadent, THC-spiked chocolates, weed is touted as the long-sought secret sauce. For users and companies, adding cannabis to sex or sex to cannabis is a win-win proposition.
Cannabis traditionally has been associated with good sex, yet only relatively recently did a cannabis product specifically created for sexual enhancement appear on the market. California company Foria’s Pleasure THC-infused lubricating oil launched a small but growing market segment.
According to co-founder Mathew Gerson, “When we created this around six years ago, there was no product of its kind on the cannabis market speaking to intimacy in general, which was fascinating because it’s such a great use of cannabis.”
Foria’s Pleasure is an all-natural arousal lube for women containing only THC and other botanical ingredients, designed to be applied prior to self or coupled pleasure. The plant extracts exert their effects both topically and aromatically.
THC’s anti-inflammatory and blood-flow-enhancing effects are believed to contribute to the cannabinoid’s efficacy, although that remains unproven in this context. Foria believes, and has confirmed anecdotally, using Pleasure increases sensation, reduces tension, and enhances orgasms.
In addition to cannabinoids, both Pleasure and a CBD version called Awaken contain plant-based, organic ingredients considered to have aphrodisiac qualities that smell and taste good.
Invitation for experimentation
The growing availability of infused intimacy products both encourages and excites New York urologist Dr. Lauren Schulz. “We’re learning so much about the anti-inflammatory and vasodilating properties [cannabinoids] have,” she said. “Taking that and extrapolating it and putting it into a lubricant that will enhance blood flow as well as make things feel better? That’s great!”
Does adding cannabinoids to intimate products make them more attractive to someone who might not ordinarily use one? Schultz believes the answer is yes. “Buying any sort of lubrication or intimate product is an invitation for experimentation,” she said. “And if you add in something like CBD for novice users, it’s going to be less intimidating.”
Women experience orgasms less frequently than men; as they age, the disparity increases. Furthermore, the options for addressing sexual dysfunction skew heavily toward males and pharmaceuticals. Yet as a culture, Americans finally are beginning to accept the pursuit of pleasure, like happiness, is a basic human right that should be available to all in equal measure.
Dr. Holly Richmond, a sex therapist and coach, believes the #MeToo movement, with its emphasis on female sexual empowerment, has contributed to women feeling freer to claim their sexual rights across the board, including in the realm of pleasure. She said putting cannabis into intimacy products makes sense when the goal is to attract female consumers, who tend to be both more canna-curious and more open to new experiences than their male counterparts.
According to Richmond, unsatisfying or painful sex is not uncommon among women and may be severe for those who have experienced sexual trauma or are undergoing cancer treatments or hormonal changes associated with menopause. For the latter groups, taking control over their sexual pleasure can be a radical act. Richmond has found cannabis-enhanced sex aids to be invaluable for reducing anxiety and pain and helping women be present in their bodies.
Andy Greenberg runs Society Jane, a curated cannabis service for women who prefer not to visit the male-dominated world of dispensaries. Ms. Greenberg believes more education about intimacy products is urgently needed, not only because too many women suffer needlessly but also because once women are informed the products exist, their inclination to purchase skyrockets. And who is buying? “Women in their 50s and 60s, but we’ve also sold quite a few to seniors,” Greenberg said. “Plus, a lot of 20-somethings are buying them and using them with gusto.”
New self-care paradigm
Cyo Nystrom and Rachel Washtien created San Francisco-based Quim Rock as a wholeheartedly women-centric company with products targeting “humans with vaginas and humans without vaginas who love vaginas.”
Prior to entering the cannabis space, Nystrom created her own vaginal health products to stave off yeast infections and urinary tract infections. Quim Rock was a natural move. The company’s product line features THC-infused intimate oil Night Moves; a CBD version of the product will be released soon, Nystrom said. But it is the innovative Happy Clam Everyday Oil that distinguishes the Quim Rock line.
Millions of women suffer from vaginal dryness as a result of aging, the drugs they take, or other conditions. Until recently they have had little recourse for remedy except pharmaceutical products that are expensive and may cause unwanted side-effects. With Happy Clam, believed to be the first non-prescription lubricant specifically for vaginal health, women who can’t or don’t want to put hormones and other chemicals on their bodies don’t have to. “I think the growth of these intimacy products in the cannabis industry really is echoing the growth of a wellness space… with proactive versus reactive care for our bodies,” Nystrom said.
Nystrom rejects the separation of sexuality from wellness, just as she does the duality of recreational versus medicinal cannabis. “We’re coming to a place in the wellness industry of understanding that it’s non-binary,” she said. “Having fun, experiencing joy, experiencing an orgasm—sure, it’s recreational. But it also has a lot of medical benefits.”
An entire selection of cannabis products offer curated psychoactivity created to put users into the mood. Some strains purport to enhance intimacy, like SexxPot, which is available in “queen-sized” pre-rolls “designed to help women relax into a sensual state of mind.” Arouse and Passion recently joined Bliss, Calm, and Relief in dosist’s portfolio of metered vape pens, offering a nuanced, two-step approach to sexual connection. But as strain profiles give way to cannabis products tailored to enhance a particular mood, sexual arousal increasingly is added to the menu.
For those who would rather sip than inhale their enhancement, women-run and operated Kikoko offers Sensuali-Tea. A blend of herbal ingredients, each bag is spiked with THC and, according to Kikoko founder Amanda Jones, women are its greatest fans. “From the feedback we get, women find that not only is sex better after drinking Sensuali-Tea, but as importantly, the experience they have engaging with their partner, having deeper, more meaningful connections, leads to more frequent sex.”
Another company owned and operated by women, Humboldt Apothecary, created Love Potion No. 7, an infused tincture that may be taken orally and also used as a personal lubricant. Gillian Levy, the company’s co-founder and chief executive officer, named the potion after the seven different plants that compose its formula, and also because seven is her favorite number. In the cannabis intimacy products space, the dual-use potion is innovative. Levy explained when taken internally, No. 7 supports improved libido and produces an effect customers generally describe as “euphoric.”
A look into the crystal ball
Consumers, manufacturers, and retailers may be excited about growth potential in the intimate products vertical, but investor interest is mixed. Nystrom’s Quim Rock is looking for the right partners. Meanwhile, the company focuses on expanding its reach via online shopping sites and merchandising in select Urban Outfitter locations.
In contrast, Gerson said being first to market made Foria attractive to a certain type of investor. “When you raise your hand and say ‘it seems like we’ve developed the first of its kind topical with cannabis for sexual enhancement, and by the way, it’s also having all these other benefits for individuals across the pleasure spectrum,’ it definitely piqued the interest of a lot of angel investors,” he said.
One of those investors recalled, “An investment in an intimate cannabis products company in early 2014 wasn’t the no-brainer it now appears to be. The broader cannabis market was still in its infancy, the myriad applications of cannabis—especially for sexuality—were largely unknown and anything but mainstream… To a more generally ‘boring’ investor, Foria stands out as a rare and significant success for me and our co-investors… There’s a lot of personal satisfaction in seeing so many people benefiting from what’s becoming a more widely accepted product class.”
Foria has leveraged its backing to introduce a line of products in the CBD space, including a vape pen. All are available in 150 countries. The company also is entering the clinical research field. A study underway in collaboration with the Marijuana Investigations for Neurosciences Discovery (MIND) Center at Harvard Medical School, is examining Foria’s CBD vaginal suppositories for treating menstrual pain.
Gerson sees plenty of opportunity ahead. “The number of people out there who might say ‘I’m interested in pain-free sex’ or ‘I’m interested in better sex’ is probably larger than the number who are interested in using cannabis recreationally for its psychoactive effects,” he said. “Perhaps within five years, more people will have cannabis in the bedroom than any other room in their house.”