Ask a Neuroscientist: A Fresh Look at Marijuana in the BDSM Scene

by Hermes Solenzol

The recreational use of cannabis is now legal in my home state of California and in eight other states and Washington DC. Medical cannabis is legal in 28 states. So now more than half the people of the United States has some form of legal access to marijuana. In fact, marijuana use has more than doubled in the last five years. This increase has occurred in in states where it’s still illegal, and across the entire population without differences in gender, age and social status.

In view of this, we need to have a conversation about the use of cannabis in the BDSM scene. We no longer need to fear being condemned for advocating breaking the law. Should using marijuana in a scene be completely out of the question? Or did we just internalise the anti-drugs messages of the War on Drugs to the extent that we are missing out on some valuable experiences?

The view accepted by the BDSM community until now is that drugs have no place in a scene because they produce loss of awareness and control, which are absolutely required in a scene. According with this view, drug use would fall under the categories of not safe and not sane under the SSC (safe, sane, consensual) guidelines. In particular, a Dom under the influence of drugs may not be able to read the sub correctly and would make errors of judgement. The case against drug use by subs is less compelling, but it could be argued that a sub under the influence may misjudge physical and mental damage being done to him/her.

It is important to judge separately the effect of each drug. This should be quite evident to anyone familiar with the vastly different effects of legal mind-altering substances like alcohol, nicotine and caffeine. Perhaps one the biggest lies told by the War on Drugs is that all drugs are the same: they are equally addictive, incapacitating and dangerous. Now we know that opiates are indeed deadly, while cannabis is less dangerous than alcohol and nicotine. So, let’s judge cannabis on its own.

The full legalization of marijuana in Colorado, Washington and Oregon provided an unexpected opportunity to investigate some of its effects. In the midst of what have been called an opioid epidemic, deaths caused by opiate abuse have decreased in states that legalized cannabis, as has been the medical use of other drugs like analgesics, anxiolytics and antidepressants. The medical benefits of cannabis do not seem to have been exaggerated and nowadays many people self-medicate with cannabinoids. This is not to say that cannabis use is without risks. It produces addition in 9% of the people, and can also cause withdrawal syndrome, adverse mood changes and psychosis. However, these adverse effects are found in smaller percentages of the population than the ones produced by other drugs.

A great deal is known about how marijuana affects the brain. Its psychotropic effects are caused by delta9-THC acting on CB1 receptors. These receptors are naturally activated by two compounds naturally produced by the brain, collectively called endocannabinoids: 2-arachydonyl-glycerol (2-AG) and anandamide. THC is a partial agonist of CB1 receptors, meaning that it may activate them in some part of the brain or inhibit them in some other parts by blocking the binding of the endocannabinoids. Some of the effects in the scene attributed to endorphins may actually be produced by the endocannabinoids. This is something to take into account, because by taking THC we may actually block the natural effect of the endocannabinoids. Marijuana plants (Cannabis Sativa and Cannabis Indica) actually contain more than a hundred cannabinoids besides THC. Among them is cannabidiol (CBD), which does not produce a psychotropic high but has many beneficial effects by activating the other cannabinoid receptors, CB2 and GRP55. CBD is anti-epileptic, anti-psychotic and analgesic. Both CB1 and CB2 receptors suppress the immune system. CBD seems to oppose some of the adverse effects of THC. A great deal remains to be know about cannabinoids.

In my opinion, cannabis should not be taken by the Top in a scene, for the reasons given above.

POSSIBLE BENEFITS FOR THE BOTTOM

  • It decreases pain, but not to the point of allowing serious physical harm.
  • It allows the bottom to focus on sensations, greatly enhancing them.
  • It makes the bottom stay in the moment.
  • It causes the bottom to become more easily influenced by the suggestions of the Top, getting deeper into the scene.
  • It produces psychological disinhibition, allowing the bottom to get deeper into the scene and try new things.
  • It produces sexual disinhibition by breaking through mental blocks. However, it may actually decrease libido a bit.
  • It synergizes with endorphins released by pain, helping to get into sub space.

POSSIBLE PROBLEMS

  • Anxiety and paranoia, even a psychotic episode in a few susceptible people.
  • Loss of judgement. It should only be used with a Top that can be trusted completely.
  • Memory impairment, which can affect consent and impair evaluation of the scene.
  • It can cancel the natural effect of the endocannabinoids released during the scene.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR USING MARIJUANA IN A SCENE

  • Only by the submissive, not by the Top.
  • It should only be used after informed consent, and never as a means to bypass consent or break limits.
  • Not during public play, because other people may not understand what’s going on. In particular, I do not advocate breaking the no-drugs rules of BDSM organizations.
  • Use plant products that contain both THC and CBD, not pure THC or synthetic cannabinoids.
  • The Top and the bottom should have played many times, so that the Top is fully familiar with the limits, fantasies and problems of the bottom and is able to read him/her very well.
  • The Top stays within the safe zone of the submissive and does not try anything new or extreme.
  • The bottom has previous experience with marijuana.
  • Attention should be given to adverse psychological reactions: paranoia, panic attacks, etc. An emergency plan should be in place.

Even if we personally choose not to use marijuana in the scene, we need to start talking about it. Condemning and marginalizing people who use it is self-defeating and untenable. We need to develop a healthy, well-informed attitude towards it in the BDSM community.

Feature image: detail of artwork by Vilela Valentin

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

HermesSolenzolBased in Los Angeles, California, Hermes Solenzol is a neuroscientist, and has been doing research on pain for several decades. In particular, he has been investigating endorphin release in rats. He has been a sadist for as long as he can remember and active in the scene for several decades.

Much of his writing is published in Spanish at Sexo, ciencia y espíritu, but there’s a great collection of articles on his English site, Sex, science and spirit. Along with a lot of BDSM wisdom, you’ll find thoughts on polyamory, communication, psychology and love.

He’s currently translating his first erotic novel from Spanish to English.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *