(image: The Birth of Venus by William-Adolphe Bouguereau )
“What spices do for food, aphrodisiacs do for sex and eroticism.” - Christian Ratch & Claudia Muller - Ebeling Encyclopedia of Aphrodisiacs
“This remarkably non-toxic drug [has] the capacity to enhance a variety of human experiences: [the first] is to turn an ordinary dish into an extraordinary culinary experience. And the second is sexual experience.” - Dr. Lester Grinspoon, Harvard Medical School professor quoted in NY Magazine
Hemp has been part of human culture for at least 3,500 years (the oldest remnants of the plant come from eastern Germany). And it wasn't just used for its fibers. Ancient civilizations around the world quickly discovered the erotic potential of the resin contained within the plants' female blooms. Millennia before contemporary scientific research began confirming the medicinal benefits of marijuana, our great-great-great-great-great-great grandmothers were well aware of its aphrodisiac effects.
The Gift of Shiva
By far the strongest traditional connection between cannabis and sexuality is found in ancient Indian tantric texts. The 17th Century Raja Valaba recounts "the gods gave cannabis to humans out of compassion, so that they might achieve enlightenment, lose fear, and preserve sexual desire." Nepalese mythology similarly describes cannabis as a gift of compassion from the gods. According to legend, the goddess Parvati gave cannabis resin to her husband Shiva. After experiencing a divine orgasm, Shiva chose to share it with humans. Hemp is still used in tantric ritual in which lovers take on the roles of Shiva and Parvati and also offered to fertility goddess Kali.
Cradle of Civilization
(image: Uwaki no so by Kitagawa Utamaro)
Hemp was present from the start of Chinese civilization. It appears in the 2700 B.C. medical text, the Pen Ts'ao, as "ma." In addition to its medical value, "ma" was considered a holy plant—one of the “five crops”—and included it in Taoist love elixirs. In Japan, cannabis has been part of the culture since the neolithic period and forms an essential part of Japanese "five spices" mixtures that contain other plants traditionally used as aphrodisiacs (chili pepper, algae, prickly ash).
In Norse mythology, hemp is referred to as the "arrows of spring" and it is consecrated to the Freya, potent fertility goddess and symbol of the erotic. She is described driving her war chariot (drawn by cats) and clutching flowering hemp in hand.
(image: Freja by John Bauer)
In Switzerland, the hemp fields were the place for fertility rituals to take place. Those same rituals were later branded "witch dances."
A Sensual Therapeutic
In addition to the documented use of cannabis as an aphrodisiac for both men and women, it has been recognized for its effective application to women’s sexual health. Cannabis has been used across cultures as a treatment for menstrual cramps and used topically in an analgesic salve to alleviate pain during sex.
A Female Viagra?
Given the thousands of years of traditional use of cannabis to stimulate sexual arousal and desire, it is a promising area for further research. Contemporary science is only beginning to uncover the potential mechanisms that connect cannabis to arousal and desire. Scientific surveys document the self-reported connection between smoking marijuana and increased sexual desire and pleasure. “That CB1 receptor seems to be involved in improved tactile sensations and general euphoria,” says Dr. Mitch Earleywine, professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Albany quoted in NY Magazine article. While the exact effect of cannabis on sexual function remains to be studied in a clinical setting, it remains a classic aphrodisiac. As Muller and Ebing write in The Aphrodisiac Encyclopedia, an aphrodisiac is as much defined by its biological function as by culture. And thousands of years of human culture have entwined the hemp flower with human desire.