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The Different Effects of Cannabis on Men and Women

The Different Effects of Cannabis on Men and Women
Reading Time: 5 minutes

Cannabis has grown increasingly mainstream over the past decade as more states legalize both medical and recreational use. With this growing normalization comes greater research into how cannabis affects various populations. One key finding? Cannabis affects men and women differently.

From differences in biochemistry to variations in sensitivities and tolerances, cannabis effects on men and cannabis effects on women can have wildly divergent experiences with cannabis. As a woman or man considering cannabis, it’s important to understand these sex-based differences. Let’s explore how cannabis specifically affects men versus women across a range of measures.

Cannabinoid blood levels

When it comes to cannabis effects on men, THC and other active cannabinoids enter the bloodstream. However, men and women metabolize cannabinoids at different rates. In one study, men had much higher blood levels of THC compared to women when given the same THC dose.

Researchers believe estrogen plays a role in speeding up cannabis effects on women. Faster metabolism means cannabinoids don’t remain active in the female bloodstream for as long. This can influence cannabis effects.

For example, women may experience faster onset but also faster dissipation of cannabis’ effects compared to men due to quicker metabolism. Understanding this difference allows proper dosing by sex.

Cannabinoid receptor expression

The human endocannabinoid system contains two main receptors that interact with plant cannabinoids – CB1 and CB2. Where these receptors are expressed throughout the body influences cannabis effects on men versus cannabis effects on women.

Studies find women naturally have higher CB1 receptor density in many areas of the brain. The hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, and amygdala show particularly high CB1 expression.

This means cannabis effects on women are generally more sensitive to THC’s psychoactive effects. They may experience more potent effects from lower THC doses. Men often require higher doses for comparable effects due to lower resting CB1 density.

However, CB1 distribution varies between individuals regardless of sex. While informative, receptor expression differences only reveal part of the story.

Subjective intoxication effects

When men and women are given the exact same cannabis source, dose, and method, do they describe intoxication effects differently? Research says yes!

In studies analyzing subjective intoxication effects between sexes, women consistently reported greater adverse reactions from THC including:

  • Increased anxiety
  • More sedation
  • Greater amplified sensations (sight, smell, touch)
  • More distortions in time perception
  • Higher dissociative effects
  • Increased heart rate changes

However, women did not perceive greater pleasurable effects compared to cannabis effects on men, despite greater negative reactions. This indicates increased baseline THC sensitivity.

Not all women experience more adverse cannabis effects on men however. Individual differences in tolerance exist among both sexes based on factors like genetics, history of cannabis use, body composition and more. But overall trends are clear.

Analgesic (pain-relieving) effects

Cannabis is often consumed for its analgesic properties. Research indicates sex differences exist here as well.

In a study analyzing sex differences in response to a cold pain stressor after THC administration, women reported:

  • Lower peak pain sensitivity
  • Longer pain alleviation duration
  • Less peak pain unpleasantness

This suggests THC may provide greater pain relief as one of the common cannabis effects on women compared to cannabis effects on men. Estrogen levels may sensitize the body’s own endogenous opioid pain system, increasing cannabis’ pain-relieving potential.

However, because women also report more adverse THC reactions, they may limit dosing before maximum analgesia is reached. This delicately balances the benefits and downsides of THC for pain management in women.

Mood-enhancing effects

Many consume cannabis for its apparent mood-boosting properties. Here again, women and men may differ.

Research on depression in chronic cannabis users found cannabis effects on women demonstrated a greater worsening in depressive symptoms over time compared to men, especially with higher THC potency cannabis.

This suggests males may experience more mood enhancement from cannabis, particularly high-THC varieties. Females appear more susceptible to worsening mood issues with heavy use.

However, low-dose CBD may boost mood in women based on neuroimaging studies showing decreased limbic system blood flow after acute CBD doses. More research is still needed specifically on sex differences in cannabis’ mood effects.

Withdrawal symptoms

When stopping heavy, chronic cannabis use, both men and women can experience withdrawal symptoms ranging from irritability to sleep disturbances. But emerging research suggests women may undergo more severe, longer-lasting withdrawal.

One study found women had a larger number of withdrawal symptoms that took twice as long to subside compared to males. However, wide individual variation in withdrawal exists.

Factors like genetics, receptor changes from chronic THC exposure, and circulating hormone levels may all contribute to sex differences in cannabis withdrawal severity. Further clinical studies are warranted.

Impacts on exercise and sports

Active individuals, from everyday gym-goers to pro athletes, sometimes supplement exercise with cannabis or CBD. Here again, sex matters when it comes to impacts on performance.

In general, research suggests cannabis impairs exercise motivation and recovery in men more significantly than women.

Men also appear to experience greater reductions in power output, increased heart rate, and other adverse cardio-respiratory effects from pre-exercise THC use based on preliminary studies.

However, plenty of active cannabis users of both sexes report positive impacts on exercise quality, enjoyment, and recovery. More performance research by sex is needed.

Cognitive and memory changes

Long-term heavy cannabis use is associated with cognitive decline and memory impairment over time. Here, multiple studies point to increased susceptibility among female users.

Brain imaging studies show female cannabis users had more extensive alterations in memory-associated brain regions along with greater memory impairment versus equally-matched male users.

This indicates potential increased vulnerability of women to cannabis’ detrimental impact on cognition, especially with early onset, chronic use. However, confounding factors like concurrent tobacco smoking make findings complex.

Insights for women’s cannabis use

What insights do these differences provide for women considering or already using cannabis? Here are key takeaways:

  • Start low, go slow – Due to increased THC sensitivity, women benefit from starting with ultra low doses and gradually increasing until desired effects are reached.
  • Prefer low-THC options – Seek cannabis strains and products lower in THC and moderately high in CBD to minimize adverse reactions.
  • Avoid chronic daily use – Due to increased risks of withdrawal, mood changes, and cognitive decline, consider abstaining from heavy daily use.
  • Monitor mood changes – Pay attention to any worsening anxiety, depression, irritability or emotional numbing over time with continued use.

While cannabis affects every woman differently, paying attention to potential increased sensitivity allows informed, moderate use. Further research may uncover additional sex-based differences to inform personal use.

Insights for men’s cannabis use

For cannabis effects on men, key cannabis use insights include:

  • Expect delayed effects – Due to slower THC metabolism, onset of effects may take longer than women. Allow sufficient time for ingestion before redosing.
  • Anticipate higher dosing – Men generally require higher THC doses for comparable effects and analgesia based on receptor expression differences.
  • Watch for interactions – Concomitant alcohol or medication use along with cannabis may compound impairment effects in men more significantly.

While individual variation exists, paying attention to potential differential effects allows men to make informed cannabis use decisions. Further research on male-specific differences can optimize guidelines.

Key takeaways

While cannabis affects every individual differently, paying attention to key sex-based differences allows safer, more informed use for both women and men. Key takeaways include:

  • Cannabis effects on women tend to have increased THC sensitivity due to higher cannabinoid receptor expression in key brain areas. Start low!
  • Cannabis effects on men often require higher doses for similar effects, but may experience more motivation and performance impairment from cannabis use.
  • For women, lower THC, higher CBD/Cannabinoids options may provide symptom relief with fewer adverse effects.
  • Both sexes can develop cannabis dependence with chronic heavy use. Risks may be greater in men with certain use patterns.

While much remains unknown about sex differences and cannabis, paying attention to the latest research allows personalizing guidelines to optimize benefits and minimize risks. This insight allows consumers to make safer choices as cannabis gains mainstream popularity.

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