Nick Karras embodies all the qualities you want from your sexologist. He’s open, understanding, easygoing, and observant. He is also the author of Passionate High: A Guide to Using Cannabis for Better Sex and Creativity, who has spent years studying how cannabis affects the brain. We caught up with Nick to talk all things sex and cannabis.
You’ve studied the interaction of sex and cannabis for a few years now. What were some of the most surprising things you found?
Throughout my research we were asking subjects questions like, why do you smoke? What are the mental effects? We looked at age, financial demographics, everything. What blew me away is that a very small percentage of people across the board were using cannabis for sex, but they were using it for everything else. It was interesting to me because I never thought of it as a creative outlet–I had always used it for sexual experiences only. But I was hearing from musicians, artists, and all kinds of people who would tell me “a small amount of this strain and my creativity comes out.”
I had accountants tell me that their accuracy rate went way up when they took a small amount of a particular strain. I had a neuroscientist tell me that before he did surgery, he would take a small amount of tincture to calm himself down. When he was working on a brain afterward, his senses felt more alive and nimble. Those fascinating results are what sent me down the path of wanting to know what cannabis does to the brain. I wanted to know why these people were having all these different effects and how we can control those effects.
And what effects did you find to be most consistent?
I call it the “bouquet of cognitive effects.” There are five features [that are consistent when consuming cannabis]: hyperfocus, pattern recognition, enhanced imagination, increased empathy and episodic memory retrieval. So, let’s start with hyperfocus. People refer to it as the zen effect–it’s when you get into a zone and you’re more present. Then, there’s enhanced pattern recognition. This is important for couples because in order to move forward on a problem, you first have to start seeing patterns. When I am coaching couples with sexual issues, sometimes a partner says something that subconsciously triggers the other without either of them knowing it, and it’s the same word or phrase every time. By tapping into pattern recognition, you are more aware of what’s going on.
To me, the increased imagination is the best part of cannabis–you see the world differently. I love when I’m laying with a lover, smoking some cannabis after incredible sex. We lay there and being high, you come up with these crazy ideas, like, “hey, lets move to Rome!” Of course, the next morning over breakfast you would look at each other and say, “yeah, we were stoned and that was silly.” But some of the stuff is good! That’s why I tell clients that when you are high and you get these lofty ideas, actually write those ideas down and ask yourself where they came from. Maybe they are things you actually want to do–I have personally based a lot of my life decisions on stuff that would come from that space.
Enhanced episodic memory takes you back to the past. For instance, maybe you get high and hear a song you listened to when you were a teenager. You click back to that moment, you go to that place, and you feel that memory with a lot of detail and vividness. For instance, a lot of couples who see me say they want to return to the feeling they had at the beginning, when they first met. So, I’d suggest to design a little ceremony.
Get pictures out of when you first met. Lay them around you and your partner. Second, dim the lights to create a romantic atmosphere. Then, maybe put on the music you listened to when you first met or made love. Once you consume a little cannabis and start looking at these pictures or telling stories, trust me–you get back into it. The body holds a lot of knowledge and that’s why these visuals, smells, and sounds will bring memories back. Cannabis can help ignite those imprints on your memory and bring out those stories that the body holds.
I love the idea of creating your own ceremony for a more connected experience. I think it’s so important to consume with intention, particularly if you want to access the benefits of the plant.
Yeah, it’s just another wonderful tool for addressing relationship issues when they come up. If you have an issue, sit down together with that issue, write down what you want to talk about, and what you want to put into the experience. Do the ceremony by getting a bit of a high going, then address the issue and write down ideas. With your enhanced empathy and increased imagination, things look more possible.
If you repeat that four or five times it’s usually enough to change a train of thought so it comes naturally to you, without the help of cannabis. The nice part about cannabis is that you can use it for problem solving, then put it away until another problem comes up. Some people think I’m insinuating to only have sex while high and I am absolutely not. It’s just another way to think differently and change the way you are seeing.
And what about the “increased empathy” effect of consuming cannabis? You say, “a highlight of the high is empathy.” Can you expand on that phenomenon and how cannabis brings out empathy?
When I was doing my research, I kept hearing that. So I wondered, how was this possible? Where does empathy really come from? I assumed we are just born with empathy, but that’s not true. Empathy is taught–it’s a social construct. Do some research on empathy and you’ll find out that it’s something we learn. In my opinion, cannabis wakes us up and slows us down, so we are better able to walk in each other’s shoes. There’s even a growing movement of mothers who microdose cannabis in order to relate better to their children. These mothers say they feel more compassion and more empathy for their child after consuming a small amount of cannabis.
That’s fascinating! Speaking of microdosing, can you talk about why you say “microdosing is everything’ when it comes to cannabis and intimacy?
In my book, I give three classifications of a high: light touch (level 1), classic high (level 2), and stoned (level 3). Microdosing allows you to take a small amount and then sit with it. My preference for couples starting out is to begin with flower. It’s easier to get a gram of a bunch of different strains (you can get a gram [in California] for 7 or 8 bucks now) of flower than with other methods. Ingest them, see what you like and adjust accordingly. Within five minutes you can feel the cognitive effects, then take note of what you like and dislike. In the bedroom, play with microdosing so that you find that happy place before you get all the way to the “stoned” level. Most people go all the way to stoned, but they are missing all the cognitive benefits when they do.
What would you suggest for a couple that react very differently to the same strain or dose of cannabis?
When I was doing my research I would provide what I like to call “doobettes,” where I would get different strains and then I would roll these tiny little joints (just enough for two evenings of microdosing). We would try indicas, sativas, hybrids–and I was surprised by how many couples picked different strains. If you think about everyone in your life, you’ll notice a lot of people will take anxiety, frustration, and worry and put it into different places. Some people will put it in their heads; they’ll get migraines. Others will put it in their body; they’ll have gastrointestinal issues. We all hold our problems differently. And usually in a couple, we generally pair up with our opposites. So for many, the best strain for them isn’t going to be the same strain as their partner.
So yes, the couples I researched usually ended up with their own strain. The amount also varies, so one person could need to smoke 2 or 3 times as much as the other one to get the same effect. For couples like this, I suggest that on different (non-sexual) evenings, people should experiment and go on a personal journey by themselves. Play with different strains. It’s like asking which essential oils work best for you. What works to calm you down or stimulate you is going to be different from what works for another person.
In experiencing better sex with your partner, you speak a lot about embracing the sensual side of yourself. Can you talk both about your definition of sensuality and why it is so important to tap into your personal sensuality before trying to connect with someone else?
We live in a world right now that values competition over compassion, strength over wisdom, greed over generosity, and conformity over novelty. These priorities put us in our head–they take us out of our body and out of our heart. To me, most illnesses or problems with people are because they have lost that mind-body connection.
When clients come in, I always ask, where do you hold more knowledge? Your body or your mind? People always say the mind, but I disagree. The body actually holds more knowledge. Somebody famous once said, “the mind will never be able to make you happy.” The mind was created to problem solve. The mind was created to protect you so that you don’t get eaten by another creature. Your body is what gives you ease. Your body is what gives you joy. People have lost that connection.
People ask me, “why do I have no desire or feel any sexuality?” I ask them to tell me about the passion in their life. What are they doing that’s passionate? What are they doing for their body? What takes them out of their mind? They usually look at me blankly and respond, “well, I have to work all day, then I go home, etc.” Well, if you are not being sensual in any way, how do you expect yourself to be sexual?
Sexuality organically comes from your body’s sensuality. So I will tell people–for example, I am a light freak because I was a photographer and if you ever go to my house, my house has dimmers on all the lights–
I love that you have a portion in your guide that’s dedicated to lighting and pleasuring the senses. That was awesome–it’s so true and so real.
It’s so real! And yet, nobody thinks about it. As Timothy Leary says, “it’s all about set and setting.” I tell people, if you want to be more sexual, clean up your house first. Have a place that is organized. Choose lighting fixtures that have warm tones. Have music on–I’m surprised by how many people don’t have music in their home. Not loud music that has words in it that’s going to take someone back to a memory, but soothing music or a drum beat. If you want to get in the mood and you want to have more sex, you have to start playing with all of these little things. And taste! My god, food. The sensuality of food…
I grew up with a Greek father who owned a restaurant. When my dad wanted to make love to my mother in the evening after all the kids went to bed, he would start with dinner. He called dinner “the most powerful form of foreplay there is.”
He would put music on, dim the lights. She would sit on the counter and he would make her food. He would cut up rosemary for her and say, “smell this.” That turned the body back on and the mind off. And to me, that’s where sex comes from. Most sexologists will say, “plan a date night” or “go to the movies,” do this or that. The reality is you don’t have to do that. Some of the stuff works, but most of it is so cliché and over-beaten. For many, just a warm bath and taking care of themselves helps them feel sensual.
In your book you talk about how what most consider a failed date night (because they didn’t actually end up having sex) can actually be a positive. What would you say to a couple who tried cannabis in the bedroom for the first time and had a different night than they expected?
It was interesting when I sent the research couples home with cannabis who hadn’t made love in a long time. Some couples would come back and tell me they fell asleep in each other’s arms, or had a deep heart to heart–that’s intimacy! They would tell me these things then say, “but we didn’t make love.” They were missing the whole point. They did make love; it isn’t always about intercourse. Before you have the hot and passionate sex life, you have to create that connection–not only with yourself and your body but with your partner also.
Especially now with millenials (who grew up with their sex education being porn), they have no clue what foreplay is. Most people are not romantic at all. And at the same time, there are so many articles out there saying “sex is good for you, if you have more sex it will help with migraines, sex will help with stress, etc.” This is all true, sure. But benefits don’t come from that wam-bam-thank-you-ma’m-type sex. That’s not going to get results. The key is to slow down and to live a passionate life. That’s what I see going away more and more: the passion.
Agreed. It’s so important to remind ourselves that sex is much more than penetration. As we wrap up, any last thoughts you’d like to share?
Well, it’s been very difficult as a sexologist lately because I’m watching the decline of sex before my eyes. It’s going away. Anxiety is high, suicide in men is high, stress is very high. Yet, it’s one of the safest periods that humans have ever lived in. We have more than we have ever had in the past and yet, we are extremely fearful and anxious. That’s reflected in our sexuality. Because in order for people to be more sexual, you need to feel safe, confident, and you need to have all your other needs met. So when people have any form of anxiety, the first thing to go is sexuality. Cannabis can help with that.