Erectile dysfunction is the inability to achieve or maintain an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse. Learn about symptoms and treatment. We're learning more and more about the medicinal uses for cannabis every day, so it's only natural that we ask: can it help with ED?
Erectile dysfunction can be a difficult problem to discuss with your partner or even your doctor. However, it needn’t be because erectile dysfunction, which causes sexual performance issues for men, is a very common and highly treatable condition.
It affects approximately half of all men over age 40. While erectile dysfunction is usually a physical problem, it can also have psychological roots. More often than not, it is a combination of both. And help is available.
“We have a treatment for everyone,” says Stanton Honig, MD, a director of the Yale Medicine Male Reproductive Health Program. “It’s just a matter of what option you choose.”
At Yale Medicine, we take a multidisciplinary approach to determine the underlying causes of your erectile dysfunction, and we understand the relationship between erectile dysfunction and other health issues. We regularly collaborate with colleagues across different areas of medicine to help patients who we treat.
What is erectile dysfunction?
Erectile dysfunction, also known as impotence or ED, is the inability to achieve or maintain an erection sufficient for sexual intercourse. Almost all cases of erectile dysfunction are treatable, says Dr. Honig.
Reluctance to seek treatment remains the major barrier to restoring full sexual function for men who have erectile dysfunction.
What are the risk factors for erectile dysfunction?
Erectile dysfunction often has more than one cause. Many diseases can cause blood flow problems, damage nerves, arteries and muscles, which can impair erectile function.
These diseases include high blood pressure, diabetes, clogged arteries, heart and blood vessel disease, high cholesterol, and chronic kidney disease. Other possible causes include:
- Nerve injury: The penis, spinal cord, prostate, bladder or pelvis may have sustained a physical injury that needs to be treated. This includes a large group of men who have had surgery or radiation treatment for prostate cancer.
- Unhealthy lifestyle: This includes smoking, excessive alcohol use, obesity and not exercising.
- Mental health: Depression, stress and anxiety surrounding sexual failure can all lead to erectile dysfunction.
- Medications: Some medications, including antidepressants, can cause sexual side-effects.
- Hormones: A small number of erectile dysfunction cases result from low levels of the male hormone testosterone.
How is erectile dysfunction treated?
Yale Medicine Urology offers many advanced medical and surgical options to address erectile dysfunction. The department is guided by personalized care to treat the patient.
“We listen to the patient and partner, understand the cause of the problem and work with the couple to start treatment that works best for the patient,” says Dr. Honig.
These treatments include:
- PDE-5 inhibitors: These are medicines which relax muscle cells in the penis and increase blood flow.
- Vacuum erection device: This pulls blood into the penis, causing an erection. The erection is maintained by placing an elastic ring at the base of the penis.
- Injection therapy: Doctors use a very small needle to inject medication directly into the side of the penis. This relaxes the muscle allowing for blood flow and is a highly successful.
- Minimally invasive penile implant surgery: which our experienced physicians routinely perform. Most patients recover full sexual function in six to eight weeks. Yale Medicine Urology has extensive experience in standard and complicated penile implant surgery.
In many situations, identifying an underlying minor physical problem relieves the anxiety component of erectile dysfunction, and many patients see improvement without further intervention.
What else should you know about ED?
Erectile dysfunction is very common and so are the misconceptions surrounding it. For instance, erectile dysfunction is not necessarily a result of aging and is often the result of an underlying physical health problem.
It’s also important to know that drinking alcohol won’t help you maintain an erection. In fact, excessive alcohol use can be a cause of erectile dysfunction.
Having erectile dysfunction isn’t something you just have to live with. Almost all cases of erectile dysfunction are treatable, and treatment can lead to better overall physical and emotional health for nearly every patient as well as improve intimacy for couples.
We understand your concerns and can answer your questions about male sexual issues. We’ve heard it all before, and we can find the answers—and the treatment—that is personally best for you.
What makes Yale Medicine’s approach to treating erectile dysfunction unique?
Often, erectile dysfunction can be a symptom of a heart condition, diabetes, or high blood pressure. To address this, Yale Medicine established the Male Reproductive Health/Sexual Medicine Program, a collaboration between the specialties of cardiovascular medicine and urology.
Our patients often undergo a full body exam to determine whether they have early cardiovascular disease, vascular disease or a metabolic condition such as diabetes.
Our doctors, including Dr. Honig, are leaders in the field and stand at the forefront of research in men’s health issues.
Dr. Honig is an internationally recognized speaker on issues related to sexual health and conducts research into experimental treatments of erectile dysfunction. Our researchers are studying the links between erectile dysfunction and cardiovascular disease.
CBD For Erectile Dysfunction: Can It Help?
Erectile dysfunction, or ED, is one of the most common sexual dysfunctions for men, affecting around 30 million men in the United States alone.
If you’ve spent any time on natural health websites, you may have seen recommendations for cannabidiol, or CBD, as a treatment for erectile dysfunction.
While there’s currently no research showing that CBD is an effective treatment for erectile dysfunction, it might be helpful for treating anxiety that can contribute to ED and other sexual health issues.
Below, we’ve explained what erectile dysfunction is, as well as the key factors that may cause you to experience difficulties getting or keeping an erection.
We’ve also dug into the science behind CBD to find out how it may be helpful for treating some sexual performance issues.
Finally, we’ve listed the science-based treatment options that are available if you’re affected by ED.
CBD for Erectile Dysfunction: The Basics
Erectile dysfunction can be caused by a variety of factors, from physical health issues to factors like stress, anxiety or use of certain medications.
Most people with ED use medications like sildenafil (the active ingredient in Viagra®) to increase blood flow to the penis and treat erectile dysfunction.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is widely available as an oil and in numerous other products. Many of these are promoted as natural treatments for various ailments and health conditions.
Currently, there’s no scientific research showing that CBD is an effective treatment for ED or a suitable replacement for medications like sildenafil.
However, some research suggests that CBD may be an effective treatment for anxiety, which is occasionally a causative factor in ED.
If you have ED, it’s best to talk to a licensed healthcare provider to find out about your ED treatment online options before relying on something like CBD.
What Is Erectile Dysfunction (ED)?
Erectile dysfunction is a common medical condition in which you may find it difficult to develop or maintain an erection. You may have ED if you:
Are able to get an erection, but find it difficult to do so consistently when you want to have sex
Are able to get an erection, but can’t maintain it long enough for enjoyable sex
Can’t get an erection at all
Erectile dysfunction can be caused by a variety of factors, ranging from physical health issues to psychological conditions, medications and even certain habits and lifestyle factors.
Common physical causes of ED include high blood pressure, atherosclerosis (clogged arteries), type 2 diabetes, heart disease, multiple sclerosis and physical health conditions that affect your penis, such as Peyronie’s disease.
Psychological causes of ED include anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and guilt or concerns about sexual behavior.
Medications that may cause ED include antidepressants, antiandrogens, tranquilizers and some medications used to treat high blood pressure.
Habits and lifestyle factors that may cause ED include smoking, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, illicit drug use, lack of physical activity and being overweight or obese.
Although ED becomes more common with age, it can affect men of all ages. In fact, one study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that approximately one out of every four men seeking help for ED is under the age of forty.
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What Is Cannabidiol (CBD)?
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a chemical that’s extracted from the cannabis sativa plant. Unlike many other cannabinoids, CBD doesn’t have any psychoactive activity, meaning it won’t make you feel the typical high associated with cannabis.
CBD and other cannabinoids work by binding to the cannabinoid receptors located throughout your central nervous system and organs. Your cannabinoid receptors play a role in a variety of functions, from learning and cognition to cardiac function, energy metabolism and more.
Currently, CBD is being studied as a potential new medication for conditions such as epilepsy, anxiety, Parkinson’s disease, Crohn’s disease and others.
CBD is available in a wide range of products, from CBD oil to capsules, gummies, sleep aids and even personal care products. It’s also used as an additive in CBD-infused smoothies and health foods.
Does CBD Treat Erectile Dysfunction?
Search online for terms such as “CBD sex products” and you’ll come across hundreds of CBD products such as lubes, massage oils, capsules and “love potions” that claim to boost your sex drive, strengthen your erections and improve your sexual performance.
Despite the promises made about certain CBD products, right now, there’s no reliable scientific evidence showing that CBD treats erectile dysfunction or improves sexual performance.
There’s also no scientific evidence that CBD improves blood flow to your penis or has any effect on the muscles or nerves involved in erections.
In general, most research on cannabis and sexual health is mixed, with different studies finding positive and negative effects on sexual performance.
For example, a scientific review published in the Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics found that use of cannabis and cannabinoids had a negative effect on sperm function and mixed effects on reproductive hormones in men.
On the other hand, a recent study published in Sexual Medicine found an association between frequency of cannabis use and increased sexual function in men. Interestingly, the men in this study showed improved erectile function with cannabis use.
The study authors do make the point that “the clinical significance of this is likely low, and selection bias may limit the generalizability of these findings.”
There’s also some evidence that cannabis use may increase activation in the areas of the brain responsible for arousal. For example, a 2017 study found that cannabis use increased activation of certain parts of the basal forebrain in people exposed to erotic photos.
It’s important to note that this research looked at the effects of cannabis as a whole, not specific cannabinoids such as CBD. As such, their findings may not apply to products that contain CBD or other isolated cannabinoids.
Overall, there just isn’t enough scientific research available to confidently say that CBD can treat erectile dysfunction or other sexual health issues.
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CBD and Sexual Performance Anxiety
One area where CBD may be useful is in treating and managing anxiety, including anxiety about sexual performance.
Sexual performance anxiety is a feeling of nervousness and anxiety that can happen before and during sex. As we’ve covered in our guide to sexual performance anxiety and ED, anxiety that’s related to sex may contribute to sexual performance issues, including erectile dysfunction.
While there’s no research on CBD and sexual performance anxiety specifically, some studies of CBD have found that it may have benefits for treating anxiety.
For example, a 2020 review published by the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association found that CBD showed promising results as an alternative treatment for anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder.
However, as the Anxiety and Depression Association of America has pointed out, there currently isn’t enough evidence to state that CBD is an effective treatment for anxiety.
CBD Safety and Side Effects
CBD products appear to be safe for most adults. However, there are side effects associated with cannabidiol and other cannabis products that you should be aware of if you’re thinking of using CBD, whether for its possible effects on sexual performance or other effects.
When taken by mouth, reported side effects of CBD include drowsiness, dry mouth, nausea, lightheadedness and a reduction in blood pressure levels.
Currently, there’s limited information available on the potential side effects of topical products containing CBD. There’s also little research on the safety and potential side effects of CBD products for people under the age of twenty-one.
In addition to possible safety issues with CBD itself, it’s important to be aware that most CBD products aren’t subject to the same regulations as FDA-approved medications, or even many dietary supplements.
How to Treat Erectile Dysfunction
Although CBD isn’t proven to treat erectile dysfunction, several safe, science-based treatments are available that can improve your erectile health and sexual performance.
Currently, the most effective treatments for ED are medications called PDE5 inhibitors. These work by increasing blood flow to the erectile tissue of your penis, allowing you to easily get an erection when you’re sexually aroused.
Popular PDE5 inhibitors used to treat erectile dysfunction include:
Sildenafil. The active ingredient in Viagra, AKA generic Viagra, sildenafil is a popular ED medication that’s designed to provide relief from erectile dysfunction for approximately four hours.
Tadalafil. The active ingredient in Cialis®, tadalafil is a long-lasting ED medication that remains effective for up to 36 hours.
Vardenafil. The active ingredient in Levitra®, vardenafil provides relief from ED for four to eight hours per dose.
Avanafil. Available as Stendra®, avanafil is a newer ED medication that works quickly and is less likely to cause certain side effects than older PDE5 inhibitors.
All ED medications require a prescription. We offer a range of FDA-approved ED medications online, following a consultation with a physician who will determine if a prescription is appropriate.
Our guide to PDE5 inhibitors goes into more detail on these medications and how they work to treat ED.
In addition to ED medications, making changes to your habits and lifestyle can help to improve your erectile health and sexual performance. Try to:
Maintain a healthy weight. Research shows that obesity is a significant risk factor for erectile dysfunction in men. In fact, even being mildly overweight can have a negative impact on your erectile health. Try to maintain a healthy body weight to keep health issues like ED at bay. Although body mass index (BMI) is far from perfect at assessing your health, aiming for a BMI in the 18.5 to 24.9 range is a good general target. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website has a handy calculator that you can use to determine what your BMI is.
Exercise on a regular basis. Reliable erections are all about blood flow. Research into the effects of exercise and ED has found that regular exercise is linked to improvements in erectile function. In addition to improving your erectile health, regular exercise can help to lower your risk of heart disease, strokes and other health risks. Aim for at least 15 minutes of exercise per day to keep your heart healthy and your sexual performance optimal.
Quit smoking. Smoking can significantly increase your risk of developing ED by causing damage to your blood vessels and vascular system. If you smoke, try to quit. Our guide to quitting lists science-based techniques that you can use to give up smoking for good.
Treat any underlying health issues. Finally, it’s important to treat any underlying health problems that may contribute to ED, particularly issues like high blood pressure or heart disease. Not only do these affect your erectile health — they can also have a major negative effect on your general health and wellbeing over the long term if left untreated.
You can learn more about treating ED through healthy habits and lifestyle changes in our guide to naturally protecting your erection.
While CBD may offer benefits for sleep, anxiety and other health issues, there isn’t any scientific evidence to show that it’s effective at treating ED or improving your sexual performance.
If you’re affected by ED, the most effective treatment options are PDE5 inhibitors like sildenafil, tadalafil and others. These work by improving blood flow to your penis, making it easier for you to get and keep an erection when you’re aroused.
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Learn More About Treating ED
Erectile dysfunction is very common and usually treatable. Our full guide to ED covers everything from the causes of erectile dysfunction to treatments and prevention strategies that you can use to improve your erections and optimize your sexual health.
Hims & Hers has strict sourcing guidelines to ensure our content is accurate and current. We rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We strive to use primary sources and refrain from using tertiary references.
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This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment. Learn more about our editorial standards here.