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Cannabis & Estrogen – How & Why Marijuana Affects Women Differently

The differences between a male and female extend beyond our sexual reproduction systems. In fact, from the brain to hormones each gender differs in a variety of ways internally. You may be well aware of men carrying higher levels of testosterone and women with estrogen, but did you know that these sex hormones influence effects felt by medicine, and specifically cannabis? Let’s explore how cannabis and estrogen interact, to find out how marijuana can affect women differently than men.

Pre-clinical research

While research is steadily expanding with increasing marijuana legalization, so far the studies we’ve been privy to have been male specific. Meaning, most of the pre-clinical trials into the effects of cannabis have been performed on male animal subjects (rats) only. This was done specifically to reduce variability that hormones might have on the results. However, looking back it’s limited what we know clinically about how marijuana can affect the female gender.

Differences in gender are heavily prevalent in the brain. Which is why females and males react differently to medicines, stress and other outlying factors. What we’re learning now is that cannabinoid receptors have a relationship with internal hormones. So the difference of sex hormones in men and women make a huge difference with cannabis use too.

Next, we’ll review the endocannabinoid system in-depth to learn more about the inner-workings of cannabinoids like CBD and THC with estrogen, specifically.

The endocannabinoid system & estrogen

The endocannabinoid system is a vital internal system that monitors, regulates and effects a variety of receptors throughout the body. Basically, it’s a communication network that works heavily with the immune system, central nervous system and other organs to regulate certain effects and actions.

Sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen also interact with the endocannibinoid system. Therefore, their presence makes a difference on how external factors like cannabis work when engaging with the system too.

When cannabis enters your system it interacts with G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), CB1 and CB2. These receptors are found in the endocannabinoid system therefore promoting cannabis’ effects. Consequently, estrogen affects the amount of CB1 receptors found in the brain. Women have higher levels of estrogen in their system and these levels vary depending on reproductive cycles. So, when estrogen is heightening the levels of CB1 receptors and cannabis is stimulating those receptors, that means with higher levels of estrogen you could feel higher levels of effects from cannabis. This is just the first reason why cannabis can affect women differently than men.

These GPCRs are also responsible for being the messengers of signaling reactions throughout your body. They are why you can taste or smell food, how low or high your metabolism is, and provide signals throughout your immune system. This specifically causes the reactions to the medicines that you take. For instance, over 40% of pharmaceutical drugs target GPCRs to enact their treatments. Common prescriptions that use GPCRs to onset effects include oxycodone, fentanyl, zantac, triptans, beta blockers among others…like medical marijuana.

In addition, estrogen also raises the levels of anandamide, another endocannabinoid found internally. This endogenous cannabinoid is primarily responsible for enhancing moods. Anandamide when discovered was aptly named, as its’ title originates from the sanskrit “ananda,” meaning joy or bliss. When levels of anandamide rise throughout the body, it strengthens the power of the endocannabinoid system. Meaning, when estrogen and anandamide are heightened, so are the effects that the endocannabinoid system provides. Again, proving why women subsequently feel the effect of cannabis more than men.

Like we mentioned, sexual hormones also differ in the brains of men and women and the growth thereof. So let’s further explore the connection of cannabis with the brain and how estrogen makes a difference.

A woman’s brain on cannabis

THC and hormones like estrogen and testosterone also share a special relationship in the brain. When first developing hormones affect brain cells and how they work together to craft ‘male’ or ‘female’ type brains. The areas influenced by these hormones affect behavior and emotions, hence the difference in male or female natures. With estrogen stimulating the communication networks more than testosterone the effects of adding THC into the system are amplified.

This is one reason why certain strains or marijuana genetics might make women feel more anxiety versus men. But the complex nature of sex hormones, cannabinoid receptors and THC go beyond just this one variance. Next, we’ll cover the specific cannabis effects that differ from females versus males.

What does this mean for effects?

Using cannabis provides a plethora of relieving and beneficial effects. These effects can differ depending on gender, positively or negatively. Here are a few of the top ways that cannabis use is unique for women.

  • Pain Relief. When estrogen is at its highest during ovulation, one study found that females can experience a 25% increase in sensitivity to pain relieving effects. On the flip side, other research shows a different result for pain relief in women. A 2016 study concluded that men had pain relief ‘significantly reduced’ with THC use, more so than the women who participated. This could mean when not ovulating, that women would require increased doses of THC to successfully treat pain.
  • Tolerance. In the same study it was shown that women built up a cannabis tolerance quicker than men, even at lower doses.
  • Habits and withdrawal. In a 2010 study it was found that women show increased symptoms of withdrawal when pausing cannabis use. Other findings conclude that women can become dependent or abuse marijuana more than men.
  • Increased appetite. What’s known as the ‘munchies’ or an increased appetite effect from consuming cannabis is heightened in males versus females. Meaning that women won’t experience urges of hunger after using marijuana as much as men, do.
  • Sexual matters. In a Canadian study, it was concluded that topicals infused with THC increased arousal and sexual stimulation in women. In addition to heightened libidos, the results also showed women had a more pleasurable outcome than men as well. This is in contrast to male effects, as THC can actually decrease testosterone temporarily after use.

Women, estrogen & weed

Whether you’re male or female as cannabis use increases it’s important to know how it works, or might affect individuals. As we see research into the plant’s effects grow, we are better able to put its’ benefits to specific use. With the knowledge you’ve gained today you’re now able to better understand the different experiences you have when consuming cannabis. Stay tuned to our blog for additional medical marijuana information and in-depth insight on cutting-edge topics.