Cannabis use is growing in popularity in both adult men and women, and now more questions are being raised regarding how cannabis influences people differently. Genetics, environmental factors, habituation, and even sex differences may affect an individual’s response to cannabis. New and veteran users want to personalize their cannabis experience by maximizing their therapeutic benefits while avoiding adverse effects. If we take a closer look at the differences in biological responses and habits between men and women, perhaps we can optimize an individual’s cannabis experience.
Some differences in cannabis response may be attributed to societal norms and personal habits. Men use cannabis more frequently compared to women, and are more likely to have Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD) that requires treatment compared to women1,2. Males may be more sensitive to having CUD due to being more prone to increased risk-taking behavior, which is partially regulated by testosterone3. The legalization of cannabis in the U.S., first for medical purposes in California in 1996 and now recreational cannabis in a growing number of states, is correlated with an increase in cannabis use by women. Women ages 18-25 have consistently increased cannabis use from year-to-year in the last decade1,2. Women are more likely to use medical cannabis to treat anxiety, nausea, anorexia, irritable bowel syndrome, and headaches4. Methods of consumption also differ between sexes. Women tend to prefer edibles, while men more often report using joints, blunts, vaporizers, and concentrates. The method of cannabis consumption affects the absorption of cannabinoids and may influence an individual’s response to cannabis. With the growing population of cannabis users, and especially rise in women users, it is important to understand how cannabis may affect the sexes differently.
Animal research, and sparse human studies, have shown that there are differential responses to cannabinoids between sexes. These differences can be attributed to how the endocannabinoid system regulates sex hormone (androgen/testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone) release and how sex hormones, in turn, alter cannabinoid (CB1) receptor and endocannabinoid related protein expression5. The sex hormones and proteins of the endocannabinoid system are robustly expressed in the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system. Sex differences in cannabinoid metabolism is also evident in animal studies, but requires further investigation in humans6.
As support for cannabis-related research increases, we gain more understanding in other potential sex-based differences in other cannabis-related physiological functions, such as the immune system, inflammation, or nausea. Both human and animal studies of cannabinoid response have historically underrepresented females and only a fraction have focused on sex differences7. Understanding sex-dependent differences can help to fine-tune treatment for CUD to prevent relapse as well as optimize the use of cannabis for therapeutic benefit.
Genetics contribute towards CUD as well as other physiological functions related to the endocannabinoid system. Pathway Genomics has developed a new at-home DNA test, CannabisDNA, to help you understand your predisposition to common cannabis-related traits and match you to the appropriate cannabis strain and product. Learn more about how this test can help you personalize your cannabis experience and order your test today!
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: summary of national findings. (SAMHSA: Rockville, MD, 2014).
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 2017 NSDUH Annual National Report. (SAMHSA: Rockville, MD, 2018).
- Struik, D., Sanna, F. & Fattore, L. The Modulating Role of Sex and Anabolic-Androgenic Steroid Hormones in Cannabinoid Sensitivity. Front Behav Neurosci 12, 249 (2018).
- Cuttler, C., Mischley, L.K. & Sexton, M. Sex Differences in Cannabis Use and Effects: A Cross-Sectional Survey of Cannabis Users. Cannabis Cannabinoid Res 1, 166-175 (2016).
- Gorzalka, B.B. & Dang, S.S. Minireview: Endocannabinoids and gonadal hormones: bidirectional interactions in physiology and behavior. Endocrinology 153, 1016-24 (2012).
- Cooper, Z.D. & Craft, R.M. Sex-Dependent Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: A Translational Perspective. Neuropsychopharmacology 43, 34-51 (2018).
- Fattore, L. & Fratta, W. How important are sex differences in cannabinoid action? Br J Pharmacol 160, 544-8 (2010).