The Rise of Women’s Cannabis Use

By: Elena Schmidt November 6, 2019 • 6 minutes

Less than a decade ago men made up 75% of cannabis consumers, but today’s survey data tells a different story. According to a 2019 Gallop poll, only about 60% of the respondents who reported smoking marijuana were men. The remaining 40% were women. 

Now that cannabis is legal in 33 states and pot smoker stigmas are fading, women are closing the gender gap on legal and medical marijuana use. While the gap is closing, there are major differences between how men and women are using the plant. The latest research shows that women may process cannabis’ cannabinoids like CBD & THC differently due in large part to higher levels of estrogen hormones. Despite the differences, most THC studies have only been conducted on males and on lab rats. Let’s investigate the research thus far.

How women’s bodies interact with cannabis

Tolerance and Sensitivity
Research from Washington State University published in 2014 was the first-of-its-kind to indicate that women may be more sensitive to cannabis’ effects than men. The rat study revealed that higher levels of estrogen in women can affect their movement control, social behavior, and filtering of sensory input via the hormone’s interaction with the endocannabinoid system. All of these functions directly correlate to how women experience cannabis’ effects.  

More estrogen means that women may be more sensitive to the effects and develop a physical tolerance to cannabis more quickly than men. In fact, the study showed that female rats were at least 30% more sensitive than males to the pain-relieving qualities of THC. After 10 days of treatment, their tolerance was also significantly higher than men, which meant women needed more cannabis to produce the same result. 

In a press release related to the study, Washington State Professor Rebecca Craft said, “what we’re finding with THC is that you get a very clear spike in drug sensitivity right when the females are ovulating – right when their estrogen levels have peaked and are coming down.”

Wondering if there is any exception to the sensitivity rule? Here’s one: according to one study, the munchie effect appears to be one of the few THC reactions where males show more sensitivity than females. In other words, THC made males have the munchies more than females!

Wellness
Not every female body is the same. Factors like body fat composition, mental state, and setting all play a role in cannabis’ effects. A study published in the Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience also indicated that sex differences varied greatly based on marijuana strain, cannabinoid composition, and duration of hormone exposure. Aside from female tolerance and dependence risks, research shows that cannabinoids exhibit physiological effects that may explain how women use cannabis differently for wellness. 

Cannabinoids have been shown to affect a number of psychological and behavioral differences in men in women. According to the British Journal of Pharmacology (BMJ), men are more likely to have a higher food intake, balanced energy levels, and have a decrease in their sex drive. However, for females, these same cannabinoids offer increased relief from pain, depression, anxiety, catalepsy, and improved motor activity.

Why women use medical cannabis

Today’s data shows that women are more likely to use medical cannabis as a result of conditions such as anxiety, depression and physical pain related to female hormones and issues like endometriosis. Survey results also show that many women report better sex and more frequent sex with cannabis use. More clinical trials are needed to verify the results, but promising testimonials and research-based theories reveal a trend in usage.

Depression & Anxiety
Statistics show that women use medical cannabis to help treat depression and anxiety at a higher rate than men. This is not surprising due to the fact that women may be more sensitive to cannabis’ effects on depression and the fact that they are nearly twice as likely to suffer from mental health issues. Research on cannabis for depression and anxiety is just beginning, but recent studies offer key insights to spark continued research.

In April 2018, Washington State University conducted a study that examined how different strains and quantities of cannabis affected self-reported levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. Published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, the study suggests that smoking cannabis can significantly reduce short term levels of the mental health conditions listed for both sexes. 

A 2018 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders also showed that cannabis significantly reduced self-reported ratings of depression and anxiety. In this study, women reported greater relief than men. Low THC, high CBD cannabis was best for symptom reduction and effective for short term treatment. Our Avidekel strain matches this profile, being high in CBD with very little THC. However, our internal studies have shown that Alaska and Erez, both high in THC, have been the most helpful for patients suffering from depression and anxiety. As everyone responds differently to cannabis strains, some experimentation will be needed to find the strain that’s best for you.

Sex Drive
Women are also more likely to have less sex than men due to various mental and physical issues. While traditional medicine has failed to bridge the sex-related sex gap, cannabis may provide an alternative solution. Cannabis research use shows that women’s unique response to endocannabinoids can produce a boost in sex drive.

The mechanism of action is unknown, but theories about the endocannabinoid system’s relation to reported levels of “better sex” are rampant. A recent CNN article indicated that cannabis may improve sex because women feel less pressure to perform and more secure in their bodies. On a biological level, THC also appears to target the receptors in the brain associated with sexual arousal for women. Unfortunately, men’s receptors do not appear to respond in the same capacity.

Pain Relief
There is a mounting body of evidence on the pain-relieving properties of cannabis, so rising anecdotal reports of use for PMS, migraines, endometriosis and menopausal pain make sense. How might this work? Research shows that the endocannabinoid system may ramp up cannabinoid receptors in any area that is experiencing pain. Those receptors then merge with cannabis’ cannabinoids to help reduce inflammation and, therefore, the body’s pain response. Our research has found that Avidekel provides superior anti-inflammatory effectiveness compared to tramadol (an opioid analgesic) and aspirin (a non-steroid anti-inflammatory), and is especially great for patients looking to avoid the high

Future Research

As the gender gap narrows and the popularity of cannabis use for wellness grows, it is vital that researchers conduct more human-based studies to analyze the difference between the sexes and to help explain the correlation between cannabis and women’s health. As we here at Tikun strive to be at the forefront of medical cannabis research, we hope to be able to conduct futures studies in this area. Stay tuned!