We’ve all read the weed reviews. They talk about how long it took for the effects to kick in, how long they lasted, what they were, and whether there were any less-than-savory side effects. Often, marijuana reviews vary widely for the same strain. There are many reasons for this, from genetics to mental health, from growing practices to how much food was in someone’s stomach before they toked up. But another reason for the variance in weed effects probably won’t surprise you much when you think about it: men and women often react to marijuana differently. Let’s explore how weed affects men vs. women.
Different Endocannabinoid Systems
Animal research suggests men and women metabolize cannabinoids differently. Without getting too science-y, basically, the compounds into which THC is transformed through a process called hydroxylation differ in prevalence between males and females — though they both create prominently 11-OH-THC, the other metabolites differ slightly. The liver in women also creates a lot of another metabolite that is fairly negligible in men. CBD conversion also appears to differ between the sexes.
Animal studies are far from conclusive, unfortunately. This is abundantly clear when one review found the difference between male and female guinea pigs was reversed in rats!
Consumption by Men and Women
Not to stereotype, but it probably doesn’t surprise many to learn that men tend to consume cannabis more quickly than women (kind of like how they seem to eat more of the shared popcorn, am I right, ladies?). A study all the way back in the 1970s showed men “take more puffs per unit time and exhibit a shorter interval between puffs.” Men, therefore, end up with more THC in their system than women after a single smoke sesh.
Interestingly, the cardiovascular effects of smoking weed appear to be more pronounced in men than in women. Men tend to be pulled over for driving under the cannabis influence (and have higher THC levels when tested) and being admitted to the hospital for “mental and behavioral disturbances.” This is likely echoed in studies of alcohol consumption, but maybe in the case of cannabis, it has to do with body chemistry as well as (or rather than) inhibition.
The review scanned for this article is simply packed with the biological reasons for differences in how weed affects men and women. It’s definitely worth a read if you’re interested in the more technical side of things!
A Link to Dopamine
You might already know that cannabis interacts with dopamine and dopamine receptors in the brain. This reward neurotransmitter helps create euphoria and general good feelings, so it makes sense. You might also be aware that “too much of a good thing” isn’t just a flippant saying when it comes to this particular substance. Dopamine is part of the reason people become addicted to drugs. Consumption produces a lot of it at first, but this amount decreases as the body builds a tolerance to the substance, and so people need to take more to get the same high.
The Question of Estrogen
In addition to the studies that show men may take in more THC and be more biologically impacted by it than women, at least in some ways, other research suggests women are in general more strongly affected by weed except when it comes to the munchies (the benefit of marijuana no one tells you about: it helps us keep our trim figures?).
Though you might immediately think of the downsides of heightened sensitivity, such as more paranoia or stronger headaches, there are benefits, too, such as quicker and more prominent pain relief. As further evidence of endlessly conflicting research, this quality also indicates why at least one study showed women are more susceptible to drug abuse — yes, including marijuana — than men.
But where does the estrogen come in? Well, neurotransmitters like dopamine aren’t the only natural substances that play a role in our endocannabinoid systems — sex hormones have their place, too. Specifically, they appear to “influence the strength of cannabis’ effect.” It seems the amount of estrogen in the body and brain and any given time directly correlates to the number of CB1 receptors (one of two types to which cannabinoids can bind). More estrogen equals more CB1 receptors, which explains not only why women feel weed more than men, but also why the effects might change from day to day for women, as their menstrual cycle progresses.
Studies on the Effects of Weed
That weed affects the brain is a surprise to exactly no one. In a study last year, researchers at Yale received a grant to find out just how this complex organ is touched differently in guys and gals when they use a variety of substances including cannabis. The subjects underwent a PET or positron emission tomography scan while using weed.
The results of the study are still under inspection, but considering what researchers already know about how nicotine and alcohol affect the sexes, and what preliminary animal research and anecdotal evidence already show, not only should we see more studies coming up, but also even more specialty pot products being marketed based on gender.
As if we needed more examples of how women are from Venus and men are from Mars (or whatever), how’s that for a fascinating dive into sex variance? Tell us — have you noticed differences in how you and your other-sex friends react to weed? Have you experienced first-hand how weed affects men vs. women? Tell us in the comment section below!