New Insight Into The Mechanisms Of How Cannabis Affects Men And Women Differently
We’ve known for some time that cannabis affects men and women differently. Consumption patterns of both men and women also differ.
But a deeper understanding of how exactly cannabis works in both men and women will be beneficial for learning how to use it more efficiently to treat gender-specific ailments, such as menstruation and menopause.
A new study conducted by researchers in Italy sheds more light into the topic. They analyzed how social and environmental factors play a role, combined with individual personality traits when it comes to one’s willingness to experiment with cannabis as well as consumption habits. The findings were published in a report in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.
The findings were nothing short of thought-provoking. Specifically, they found that biological factors – chromosomes and sex hormones in particular, had an effect in cannabis consumption patterns. To conduct the study, the researchers relied on animal studies to observe the influence sex hormones had on the endocannabinoid system, such as estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
“It has been pretty hard to get laboratory animals to self-administer cannabinoids like human cannabis users,” says Dr. Liana Fattore, the study’s co-author, a Senior Researcher at the National Research Council of Italy, and the President of the Mediterranean Society of Neuroscience.
“However, animal studies on the effects of sex hormones and anabolic steroids on cannabinoid self-administration behavior have contributed to a lot of our current understanding of sex differences in responses to cannabis,” Dr. Fattore explains.
Here’s what else they discovered:
- Men are 4x more likely to try cannabis and consume higher amounts: Men are much more likely to trying cannabis at all, compared with women. They are also more likely to consume higher doses more frequently. According to the researchers, these differences are attributed to not one but several causes: naturally higher level of sex hormones in men, biological and sociocultural factors.
“Male sex steroids increase risk-taking behavior and suppress the brain’s reward system, which could explain why males are more likely to try drugs, including cannabis,” Fattore says. “This is true for both natural male sex steroids like testosterone and synthetic steroids like nandrolone.”
- Women are more sensitive to the influence of cannabis on the brain’s reward mechanisms: When cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system, this indirectly results in the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that regulates the reward and pleasure centers in the brain. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is one of the cannabinoids that have been shown to cause short-term increases in the production of dopamine. Fattore says that, “females seem to be more vulnerable to this impact on the dopamine reward system.” It could be due to higher levels of estrogen in women, as well as estradiol. Estradiol is a major female sex hormone, and it’s been associated with dopamine transmission and now the study shows that it could have a role in how females respond to cannabinoids.
“Studies in rats show that the female hormone estradiol affects control of movement, social behavior and filtering of sensory input to the brain – all targets of drug taking – via modulation of the , whose feedback in turn influences estradiol production,” Fattore said. “Specifically, female rats have different levels of endocannabinoids and more sensitive receptors than males in key brain areas related to these functions, with significant changes along the menstrual cycle.”
“As a result, the interactions between the endocannabinoid system and the brain level of dopamine – the neurotransmitter of ‘pleasure’ and ‘reward’ – are sex dependent,” Fattore explains. In layman’s terms this means that women are more prone to developing a dependency to cannabis quicker.
Call For Human Studies
Although animal studies do hold promising results, Fattore and her team of researchers are calling for more human studies that would take a deeper look into the role that sex hormones play in the endocannabinoid system and cannabinoid sensitivity. Animal studies are sometimes difficult to interpret.
“The effects varied according to the specific cannabinoid studied, as well as the strain of animals tested and duration of hormone exposure,” she says. But the human data we have so far seems to be consistent in their findings that estradiol indeed does regulate the female response to cannabis. Human males and females, just like animals, have diverse genetics and hormones that influence their behavior as well as the way they process information.