How Cannabis Affects Men and Women Differently
by Rio Kaplan, on May 12, 2020 2:30:00 PM
Men and women at times can seem like completely different species. It was thought that all people experience products similarly, and that gender wasn’t a factor that would influence how the body interacts with different substances. Historically speaking, when scientists would study the effects of a certain drug or substance, men and male rodents were the primary subjects. Modern science, however, acknowledges that men and women do experience things differently from illness, to pain, to medicine. Men and women even experience intermittent fasting differently, so it stands to reason that cannabis would affect people differently depending on their size, genetic makeup, and reproductive hormones.
Differences in tolerance
Tolerance to cannabis is just one of the many different ways that gender influences the cannabis experience. A 2014 study by the University of Washington was the first to examine how gender affects THC tolerance. The study found that female rats were 30% more sensitive to the pain relieving aspects of cannabis than male rats. They also found that the female rats developed tolerance to THC much faster than males. The results raised concern that females are more likely to develop a dependency on account of their accelerated tolerance. Interestingly, other studies found that men were far more susceptible to the appetite stimulating aspects of cannabis. The munchies were one of the only areas that females were less sensitive to cannabis.
The reason women are statistically more sensitive to THC could have to do with estrogen or estradiol. Estrogen is one of the hormones that interacts with our endocannabinoid system. According to HelloMD, estrogen regulates fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), an enzyme that degrades anandamide. Anandamide is an endocannabinoid that is known for providing a feeling of bliss, some refer to it as the body’s natural antidepressant. As a woman's estrogen levels fall, the body breaks down cannabinoids, including anandamide much faster, making them less effective. It could also influence the emotional symptoms of PMS since that is when estrogen is at its lowest. A study led by F Rodríguez de Fonseca indicates that cannabinoid receptors in the brain change as the amount of estrogen in the body changes. This could explain why women tend to react differently to cannabis at different times of their cycle.
According to Science Daily, male sex hormones like testosterone increase risk taking behaviour and decrease the bodies’ natural reward system. This could have something to do with the statistics that indicate that men are more likely to try new substances. There are many studies to indicate that high levels of THC are also related to low levels of testosterone and reduced sperm count.
According to a 2018 article, many trans people report differences in their cannabis experience during their transition.The early stages of hormone replacement therapy can cause changes in how the body reacts to cannabinoids since the endocannabinoid system has such a strong relationship with estrogen and testosterone. While many don’t see a noticeable difference on the effects of cannabis, it could be something to consider. Hormones aside, many trans people claim that cannabis is a great way to ease anxiety, depression, and body dysmorphia at any phase of transition. For others it can make these symptoms worse, it all depends on the individual and their unique chemistry.
In the bedroom
With the differing ways cannabinoids interact with reproductive hormones, it makes sense that THC would have an effect on male and female sex drives. It has been generally understood that cannabis has a negative influence on the male sex drive due to the reduction in testosterone. Fortunately for men, the dip in testosterone is only temporary. The general belief that cannabis has a negative effect on male anatomy was challenged with a recent study. Dr. Jorge Chavarro and his team of researchers examined the effects of marijuana on sperm production in human subjects since most studies on the subject had been conducted on rats. He hypothesized that it would be consistent with previous studies and reduce testicular function. His team found that men who had smoked pot in their lifetime had a higher sperm count than men who had never smoked pot. This statement is generalized, but the men in his study smoked about two joints per week. For the regular cannabis consumer, this amount is on the lower end of the spectrum. Dr Chavarro estimates that lower doses of THC can be beneficial for testicular function while larger doses can have adverse effects.
Cannabis has the complete opposite effect in women. Studies indicate that THC can actually stimulate female arousal as well as enhance women’s sexual experience overall. Carolin Klien at the The University of British Columbia led research that examined the endocannabinoid system and secual arousal in women. The study didn’t involve phytocannabinoids like THC and CBD, but rather endocannabinoids. It found a strong connection between female arousal and the endocannabinoids 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) and anandamide. We’ve already discussed anandamide and its “blissful” properties, but 2-AG is closely involved in the female sexual experience. 2-AG is mainly associated with the immune system, but it is increased during orgasm and is linked to “afterglow”. Phytocannabinoids like THC and CBD have been known to work with endocannabinoids, so it makes sense that cannabis use could enhance sexual function in both men and women. Foria is the first company to create THC and CBD infused products for all genders that are designed for the bedroom.
Other ways cannabis affects men and women differently
The University of Washington study that we’ve already discussed indicated that since women build tolerances faster than men, but are initially more sensitive to the effects of cannabis, they are more likely to experience the negative effects as well. These adverse effects include anxiety, paranoia, and dependency. A separate study also linked women to greater chance of experiencing “withdrawal” symptoms such as insomnia and increased sex drive.
It is no mystery that an individual’s body chemistry influences the way cannabinoids make us feel. While the relationship to estrogen and testosterone is interesting, it is not applicable to all men and women.