While scientists have been studying the effects of cannabis on the human (and animal) brain for decades, focusing on the differences in effect between the sexes is a relatively new phenomenon. It may surprise you to find out that cannabis not only affects men and women differently, but also affects the female brain differently at various points in a woman’s cycle. Many of the differences are likely caused by sex hormones, particularly the presence of estrogen, meaning lady tokers metabolize weed differently at different points in their life cycles (pre versus post-menopause for example) as well as their monthly cycles. Differences may also be caused by variations in body fat distribution and muscle mass between the dudes and the ladies, making the issue of how marijuana affects women a complicated one!
Why Do Women Choose to Light Up?
Research shows that women who smoke do so to relieve anxiety and stress more than their male counterparts, as well as to maintain social networks. While men seem to like the risk-taking element involved in cannabis use, women who choose to imbibe often do so to soothe challenging life situations or mood disorders. One study suggested that older women are reported to have the most resistance to the idea of cannabis use due to its (possibly fading) association with risk-taking behavior.
How Does Cannabis Interact with the Female Brain?
There are known differences in the function of the endocannabinoid system between ladies and guys, which may be one reason that women experience cannabis differently than men. CB1 receptor density changes in response to the presence of certain sex hormones, meaning that the ability of cannabinoids like THC to be absorbed and processed by the body fluctuates depending on hormone levels. Despite the fact that women become sensitized to the effects of THC more quickly than fellas, they report using cannabis less frequently and in lower quantities than men.
However, research has indicated that women also show more likelihood to “telescope,” meaning they go from first hit to regular user more quickly than men. According to researchers at Washington State University, the presence of estrogen makes women “more susceptible” to the effects of cannabis. It should be noted that, while this study is one of the first of its kind to research the effects of ganja specifically on females, it was an animal study conducted on rats and the researchers used a pharmaceutical THC derivative rather than a whole cannabis plant product.
Depression, Anxiety and Cannabis Use in Women
Some studies have suggested that depression and anxiety are more common in women who consume cannabis. However, the automatic assumption that weed causes anxiety and depression is a questionable one, since women who have anxiety and depression may be more likely to use cannabis to balance their mood than women who do not suffer from mood disorders. Overall, male marijuana users show more likelihood to have psychiatric disorders, other addictive behaviors and personality disorders than lady tokers. Women do seem to experience more physical withdrawal symptoms than men, at least when comparing individuals diagnosed with cannabis use disorder (CUD).
Female Sexual Response and Cannabis
Sexual arousal and overall sexual response is one area in which it seems cannabis helps out the ladies, but not the fellas. Again, likely due to the presence of estrogen and the interconnectedness of the endocannabinoid system, women who partake of moderate amounts of cannabis report heightened sexual experience. Large doses for either sex seems to impair sexual functioning, and there is no research showing a positive effect from cannabis at any dose for the dudes. Sorry to rain on your parade, fellas. This knowledge might call for treating your special lady to an edible treat at the end of date night, though, so don’t fret. Just make sure to have a nice CBD body butter on hand in case dry mouth strikes, as it can affect all the mucous membranes.
Do the Pros of Pot Outweigh the Cons for Women?
Each person, regardless of gender, has to decide whether cannabis use is right for his or her life. Understanding some of the different effects of cannabis on women’s brains may shed light on some of the benefits and pitfalls of cannabis use for the fairer sex. Women may want to pay attention to their cycles and their response to cannabis to gauge whether there are particular times of the month that cannabis feels more or less supportive. The ladies may also want to be conscious of some of the negative reported side effects that seem to affect them more often, like dizziness and difficulty with spatial-visual memory.
Putting it All Together
While cannabis use has increased as its social acceptability and availability have also climbed, there is still much to learn about its effects. It is clear that women use cannabis differently than men and for different reasons. Why this is the case may be explained at least in part by the way that cannabis uniquely affects a woman’s brain. As with all things related to women, there are cycles involved and there are mysteries, without which life would not be as exciting, if you ask me. Obviously more research is needed on how cannabis affects women, particularly women in different phases of life (and thus varying levels of estrogen).