When we consume cannabis, some of its effects – for example, the munchies and dry eyes – are visible to others. However, most of the effects are experienced in the user’s own body or mind… so, it may surprise you that those effects may be different depending on whether you are male or female.
Various studies have tested and confirmed this fact, but how exactly do the effects differ? And why? Let’s get into it.
Different sex, different effects
One of the most obvious differences in how cannabis affects men and women differently is that men are simply more sensitive to the subjective, perception-altering properties of THC than women are.
On the other hand, women report significantly more dizziness after consuming THC than men do. Men are also more susceptible to the munchies. It has also been documented that:
- Women may be more likely to experience anxiety, a racing heart, or restlessness after consuming cannabis. Ironically,
- Women are more likely to use cannabis to alleviate anxiety or stress from other sources.
- Cannabis is more effective in reducing pain for men than it is for women – at least according to one study. However, this study used low-THC (3.65-5.60%) cannabis, so it is possible that the results would be different or less pronounced with cannabis that is more similar to the strength we usually encounter in the market today.
- Women experience more visuospatial memory impairment after consuming cannabis than men do. In other words, they are more likely to misplace things and forget about them.
- While both men and women report enhanced sexual pleasure after consuming cannabis, this effect is more pronounced in women – and according to one study, this effect appears to continue to increase along with increased consumption.
- Meanwhile, studies regarding how cannabis affects male sexual performance have yielded conflicting results, with some studies claiming that cannabis can cause temporary erectile dysfunction and other studies claiming the opposite. It’s likely that the results are at least somewhat dependant on what dose the participants in the studies received.
Different Use Habits and Social Conditions
Before we get into why exactly cannabis affects men and women differently, it’s worth noting that men and women frequently don’t use cannabis in exactly the same way.
For one thing, women are almost twice as likely to perceive risk in habitual cannabis use than men are.
While women who use cannabis are not more likely than men to develop Cannabis Use Disorder, the women who develop it an average of 4.7 years after their first use, whereas for men the average is 5.8 years.
Some studies state that cannabis has a more negative impact on the user’s mental health for women than for men; however, other studies state that women who report worse mental health are more at risk for heavy cannabis use, which makes this point into a chicken-or-the-egg sort of question.
A significant confounding factor is the fact that social pressures and stigmas regarding cannabis use also vary between the sexes: society tends to be less accepting of women who use substances than men, and a survey conducted in Illinois showed that women report lower levels of support from doctors for their medical cannabis use than men do.
Ironically, women are also more likely to decrease their use of prescription medications after receiving their medical marijuana licenses than men are – which, of course, should be the goal.
Cannabis’ effects differ between the sexes… but why?
Sadly, as is the case with a thousand other questions we all have about cannabis, there has not been enough research on this topic to provide a concrete answer. However, scientists have come up with several plausible theories:
- Body fat distribution. One of the simplest theories is that cannabis’ variation in effects between sexes is due to the fact that women typically have a higher percentage of body fat, more THC is stored in the fat cells and less of it is immediately bioavailable.
This would explain why THC seems to affect men more strongly than women, but it hasn’t been studied enough for us to know for sure.
- Sex hormone levels. It is likely that testosterone and/or estradiol (the most active and most common of the four types of estrogen) play a role in cannabis’ effects on the user. In a study using rats as subjects, scientists found that the female rats were more susceptible to the effects of THC when they had high levels of estradiol, but were less strongly affected when there was less estradiol in their systems.
This is consistent with a study that shows that higher levels of estrogen increase the availability of certain neurotransmitters that phytocannabinoids can bind to. However, this on its own does not explain why men are more strongly affected by THC.
- Endocannabinoid system dimorphism. We know that the endocannabinoid system plays a part in regulating all sorts of our bodily functions, but we still don’t know a lot of the finer details.
Many researchers have stated that there is a growing body of evidence suggesting that the endocannabinoid system is sexually dimorphic – in other words, it simply has a different form in a woman’s body than it does in a man’s. Obviously, this would explain everything… but once again, more research is needed.
We still don’t know exactly why cannabis affects men and women differently, but we know that it does. Men are more susceptible to cannabis’ effects, both as a recreational substance and as a pain reliever.
Women are more likely to use cannabis to relieve stress, but are also more susceptible to side effects like dizziness and anxiety. However, while these differences exist, they are not so pronounced that they completely change the experience.
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