Doctors working at a Georgia hospital may have discovered the very first documented case linking cannabis use to priapism – the medical term for unwanted, painful erections lasting for over four hours.
A unique case study recently published in the Journal of Cannabis Research recounts the story of an otherwise healthy 32-year-old African-American man who visited the emergency room with a painful erection that lasted for over six hours. The man told doctors he smoked weed several nights a week for the past six months. Doctors would not generally think to connect pot with priapism, but the man told them that he'd had unwanted erections on other recent occasions — and each time occurred within two hours after he hit a joint.
The man went on to tell the doctors that he started smoking weed at age 16, and also began experiencing priapism at this time. The condition went away when he quit pot in his twenties, but when he started smoking again recently, the unwanted erections returned. After a full exam, doctors found that he was in great health, other than mild hypertension. The man took no other medications, and doctors could not determine any other medical cause for these unexpected erections.
Priapism is regarded as a serious urological emergency, since blood that gets trapped in the penis for over four hours becomes deprived of oxygen. This can “lead to damage to the penile tissue, with notable destruction obvious at twelve hours,” the authors explained. If left untreated, these erections can cause permanent loss of sexual function. Most cases of priapism are brought on by drugs, including erectile dysfunction medications, cocaine, blood pressure medication, and antidepressants, but the doctors had never heard of cannabis being responsible for priapism before.
The authors later decided to further research the matter and discovered four cases linking pot to sudden erections. But in each of these cases, there was another factor that was much more likely to be responsible. Two of the cases involved men with sickle cell disease, one involved someone using MDMA, and another involved a man with diabetes who was using cocaine — and each of these factors is a known cause of priapism.
The doctors did find one study that excluded other variables, however. In a 2018 study, researchers found that synthetic cannabinoids could be responsible for priapism. “If synthetic cannabinoids can cause priapism, plant cannabis... would also be capable to potentiate this reaction,” the authors suggested. The report does note that the synthetic cannabinoids used in the study were 100 times more potent than THC, making it unlikely that natural pot would have the same effect.
The doctors concluded that cannabis was the most likely cause for priapism in this specific case, though. The patient was referred to urologists for further study, but the study authors were not able to remain in touch with him.
Outside of this one unique case study, research suggests that cannabis can have positive sexual health benefits. Several studies have linked pot to increased libido and longer, more satisfying solo and partnered sex, for all genders. Other studies have found that cannabis users share more intimate moments and have sex more frequently than abstainers, so don't let this one unique study scare you away from experimenting with weed in the bedroom.