When it comes to the effects of cannabis, women and men are worlds apart. Though there is scientific research about how cannabis affects and interacts with our bodies, few of those clinical or preclinical studies analyze male and female subjects separately. And trust us, there is a whole universe to discover in how cannabis affects men and women differently.
Spoiler alert: as you will see throughout this post, one of the ways in which cannabis affects men and women differently is appetite. Apparently, and according to research, women don’t get such bad munchies as men. But before we get into the studies, research and tests, let’s talk about sex.
Cannabis and sexual experience in women
It’s no secret that many ladies out there feel discomfort or even pain during sexual intercourse. And not just that: according to a study published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine, “women, regardless of sexual orientation, have less predictable, more varied orgasm experiences than men”. This is why companies are starting to develop products to enhance and improve sexual experience in women.
Foria is a company that develops suppositories for PMS, and also produces a “weed lube” to enhance women’s sexual pleasure. This product, as said on their website, “can increase arousal, promote natural lubrication, and heighten tactile sensation — making orgasms fuller, more intense, or easier to access”.
The endocannabinoid system also plays a major role in sex. Sex therapist Lawrence Siegel said on CNN that THC appears to target a brain area associated with sex arousal in females. “Our body’s natural endocannabinoid system is key in regulating sensations like pleasure, pain, relaxation and homeostasis. When it is activated by the cannabinoids in cannabis, it can leave people feeling relaxation, increased pleasure and decreased pain”.
“Women experience cannabis differently because of estrogen, the sex hormone. Though it appears that cannabinoids such as THC and CBD work a whole lot better in women, there’s still a catch…”
Cannabis and estrogen
To answer the question of why cannabis affects men and women differently, we have to talk about estrogen. Though all sex hormones, such as testosterone and progesterone, have an impact in how the body processes cannabinoids, the most important sex hormone in this particular area is estrogen. But why estrogen? Because estrogen is the sex hormone that interacts directly with the endocannabinoid system. It determines the strength of cannabinoids’ effect in our bodies.
Though men also have estrogen in their bodies, the levels are much lower. Estrogen plays an important role in women’s sexual development. And, along with another sex hormone called progesterone, it regulates the menstrual cycle, affecting the reproductive system.
Estrogen has a strong connection to the endocannabinoid system. In some brain regions, the amount of CB1 receptors varies with the amount of estrogen in the brain. Additionally, a study found that estrogen increases anandamide levels. Therefore, estrogen also strengthens the endocannabinoid system. Furthermore, another study found that, when estrogen levels are high in rats, the rodents are more affected by the effects of THC. Basically, they get higher! These findings suggest a correlation between CB1 receptor, THC, estrogen and the endocannabinoid system.
THC and estrogen are not such a good match
As we explained above, there is a strong connection between the endocannabinoid system, cannabinoids and estrogen. But this connection is not a good one, it appears. When THC and estrogen interact with each other, CB1 receptors get highly activated. Consequently, the endocannabinoid system becomes unbalanced. This unbalanced ECS can result in alterations in mood and anxiety because of a change in size in the amygdala, a nervous tissue located in the temporal lobe. Adolescent girls who are regular cannabis users have larger amygdalae than male cannabis users, study finds.
This could mean that women who are regular cannabis users are more likely to suffer anxiety in adolescence, as researchers conclude:
“Gender interactions may reflect marijuana-related interruptions to sex-specific neuromaturational processes and staging. Subtle amygdala development abnormalities may underlie particular vulnerabilities to sub-diagnostic depression and anxiety in teenage female marijuana users”.
Studies on how cannabis affects men and women differently
A 2011 study analyzed the effects of marijuana on driving performance. A total of 85 people participated in the study: 50 men and 35 women. Before getting to the driving simulator, researchers divided the group in two. One group received a placebo (0% of THC) while the other one got a 2.9% THC dose of marijuana. Interestingly, eight females and only one male decided not to finish the marijuana cigarette. And after consuming the cannabis (or placebo) cigarette, subjects were told to perform the test. To the driving simulator!
The first result that was different between male and female participants was in their level of “highness”. Scientists observed that women actually rated themselves as feeling “higher” than men, both in active THC dose and with the placebo. Also, women felt more sleepy than men after completing the driving test. And, long story short, it is not recommended to drive under the influence of high THC cannabis strains: “This study supports the existing literature that marijuana does affect simulated driving performance, particularly on complex tasks such as divided attention”.
Another research found that after giving a sublingual dose of THC, women and men had very different effects in spatial working memory performance. While men showed no changes at all, THC actually enhanced spatial working memory in female subjects.
Another study analyzed the differences between males and females in terms of cannabinoid-regulated biology.
The research focused mainly in homeostasis.Remember that the endocannabinoid system is present in every human and works to maintain balance, or, in other words, homeostasis. They found three important ways cannabis affects men and women differently:
Sex differences are fundamental to cannabinoid-regulated biology
Males are more sensitive to the appetite-stimulating (munchies) properties of cannabinoids
Sex steroid hormones have divergent roles in determining cannabinoid sensitivity
Women seek other things in cannabis
As you can see, women, biologically or physically, experience cannabis in a very different way than men. Women experience more intense effects than men because of the interaction between estrogen, CB1 receptors and cannabinoids, specially THC. But there are anthropological and sociological differences, as well.
According to a BDS Analytics report, women are more likely to use products like topicals and spend 35% less on cannabis products than men. According to Jessica Lukas, VP Consumer Insights at BDS, women seek different things when it comes to cannabis:
“there are some differences in the way females think and behave. We do see females a bit more likely to consume because of anxiety and physical ailments.”
There is so much more to investigate about how gender and physiology can affect the cannabis experience. Maybe next time you decide to use cannabis with friends, both male and female, you can analyze what is different and what is similar in terms of behavior or physical responses. Perhaps you can find some of the things you read here to be true among your friends.
But please, do us a favor and don’t get behind the wheel while you’re conducting the experiment.