Does Cannabis Affect Men and Women Differently?

cannabis affect men and women differently

Marijuana seems to affect men and women in slightly different ways. Edibles seem to knock women out harder than men, while men have different cannabis withdrawal symptoms, for example. Other research seems to show marijuana is an aphrodisiac, but there’s a scarcity of studies on this topic.

But the differences in weed response between the sexes are tough to separate from cultural factors or the concurrent effect of other drugs. Federal restrictions on weed, even for research institutions, still make it tough to study, despite the decades-long wave of legalization on a state level.

The journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research published a survey study of more than 2,000 male and female cannabis users and found some interesting differences on which to base further research. 

Men tended to use more weed more often, preferring to roll it and smoke it, or use vapes or concentrates. Women preferred pipes and edibles, and used less marijuana overall.

Interestingly, though women used lower doses of pot less frequently, they were more likely to report developing a marijuana habit. Marijuana’s social and health consequences are far milder than those of most other recreational drugs, but you can still get addicted. Marijuana use disorder is outlined in the DSM-V, the psychology community’s diagnostic manual for mental disorders. 

Read our full article about the habit-forming properties of cannabis here.

Men and women in the study reported different effects from the cannabis high and different weed withdrawal symptoms as well.

“Men were more likely than women to report increased appetite, improved memory, enthusiasm, altered time perception, and increased musicality when high, while women were more likely than men to report loss of appetite and desire to clean when high,” The Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research study states. “Men were more likely than women to report insomnia and vivid dreams during periods of withdrawal, while women were more likely than men to report nausea and anxiety as withdrawal symptoms.”

MENWOMEN
Use more frequentlyUse less frequently
Prefer joints, blunts, vapes, and concentratesPerfer pipes and edibles
More likely to experience an increase in appetiteMore likely to develop a habit
More like to experience an increase in musicalityMore likely to report nausea and anxiety during withdrawal
More likely to report insomnia during withdrawal

Luckily for female medical cannabis patients in the study, marijuana seemed to have an equally therapeutic effect on men and women with few reported differences. More than 1,400 of the study volunteers were using marijuana for a medical condition, so this is fairly strong evidence.

This fact is particularly important for women because pharmaceutical research, in general, tends to give women the short shrift — perhaps partially because of institutional sexism, but also because the research community doesn’t want to give experimental drug treatments to people who have a chance of becoming pregnant. As a result, many clinical trials and pharmaceutical studies don’t include women or include very few.

With a self-reporting survey like this, there’s no way to figure out the causes of the sex differences in reported marijuana use, dosage or effects. Many decisions about what preparations of weed to use and how much to take are likely dictated by the user’s social and cultural surroundings as opposed to their biology. 

And even when use decisions are connected with biology, some difference in cannabis dosage and effect may simply result from weight and body mass differences as opposed to sex-linked biological differences.

“These results may be used to focus research on biological and psychosocial mechanisms underlying cannabis-related sex differences, to inform clinicians treating individuals with cannabis use disorders, and to inform cannabis consumers, clinicians, and policymakers about the risks and benefits of cannabis for both sexes,” the study states.

But some research goes further to help tease out causation from all the noise of meaningless statistical correlations. 

A 2010 study in the British Journal of Pharmacology noted that estrogen and testosterone seem to affect where the cannabinoid receptors (CB1) appear in the brain and how dense they are.

“In some regions of the brain, the endocannabinoid levels and the CB1 receptor density and affinity fluctuate as a function of sex and hormonal cycle, supporting the hypothesis of possible sex hormone-dependent differences in the sensitivity of certain neuronal processes triggered by cannabinoid treatment,” the study states.

Your endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a neural signaling system that gets hijacked by cannabis to produce the therapeutic effects and the marijuana high. The ECS has a hand as a secondary regulator for all sorts of neural and hormonal processes, like fear response, mood, appetite, sleep, memory and a host of other functions. 

Read our full article about the endocannabinoid system.

Of course, THC and other cannabinoids are fat-soluble, meaning they tend to accumulate in fat deposits. Women tend to have a greater percentage of body fat than men deposited in different places on the body. Part or all of the enhanced effect of cannabis on women may simply be a function of the differences in body fat distribution.

Men and women differ in their average body fat, which could affect their respective absorption of cannabis given its fat-solubility.
Men and women differ in their average body fat, which could affect their respective absorption of cannabis given its fat-solubility.

Does weed make you horny?

Common wisdom in the medical community is that cannabis use compromises sexual function, but plenty of anecdotal evidence and some new studies suggest the effect may be the opposite in men and women, and more pronounced in women. 

A 2017 Journal of Sexual Medicine study of about 50,000 men and women who responded to a U.S. government health survey showed the more pot someone smoked, the more sex they had by roughly 20 percent.

A different Sexual Medicine study from the same year polled 133 women about their marijuana use in relation to sex. Thirty-eight of those women reported marijuana use before sex with nearly 70% of those women saying it enhanced their sexual pleasure.

The study authors refer to pre-coitus weed smoking with the hilarious acronym “MUBS” or “marijuana use before sex.”

MUBS = Marijuana Use Before Sex

Sixteen percent of the women in the pre-porking pot puffing group said MUBS-ing it up sabotaged the whole experience.

🍑 😞

For men, the story is a bit different. For a long time, most of the marijuana research in the U.S. came from the substance abuse fields because the federal government heavily restricts the availability of pot. Trying to suss out the true effects of marijuana from this information is nearly impossible, as people seeking treatment for addiction entirely comprise most of the study cohorts.

These recreational marijuana users seeking treatment for addiction typically use other drugs like alcohol, cocaine and especially cigarettes. Cigarettes contain nicotine and other chemicals which are vasoconstrictors, meaning it’s harder for a tobacco smoker to get an erection because the nicotine is preventing the arteries to his penis from dilating.

🍆 😞

A 2018 meta-analysis separated cigarette smokers and people with other addictions and health issues from men who used only marijuana. Turns out, weed didn’t seem to have an effect on sexual function, but cigarette smoking, obesity, lack of exercise and alcohol use did.

“Results provide compelling evidence that cigarette smoking, alcohol, and physical activity are important for sexual dysfunction,” according to the 2018 meta-analysis in The Journal of Sexual Medicine. “Insufficient research was available to draw conclusions regarding… cannabis use as a risk factor.”

The problem is there wasn’t a ton of information in the data about subjects cannabis use patterns, so the results of this analysis are by no means conclusive.

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About Adam Townsend 52 Articles
Adam Maxwell Townsend has been a journalist for 15 years. His reporting has covered science, technology and medicine. Currently, he edits and writes medical and pharmaceutical articles for consumer websites, including WoahStork.

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