THC & Men and Women - A Research Summary
TL;DR: There is a robust body of research to suggest that biologically male and female bodies may respond differently to THC. Learn more about what the research says.
The component in cannabis known as tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is responsible for the high and other psychoactive and therapeutic effects of the drug. It’s true that THC affects people of both sexes, but studies suggest that the effects can be rather dissimilar. Researchers found that female participants experienced greater subjective and cardiac effects from THC at lower doses than male participants (1). This may be because THC is absorbed more rapidly and strongly into the body in women than men (2) because women often have greater body fat. Effects may also vary depending on the individual because of the varying amounts of hormones like estrogen and testosterone that men and women naturally produce.
Research on this subject has yielded conflicting results, some of which suggest that THC affects men and women differently in terms of brain function. Example: Research has shown that THC impairs males’ cognitive abilities more than females’ (3). A second study, however, found that THC impaired verbal learning and memory in women more than in men (4). These results show that males and females’ brains differ sufficiently in their chemical composition for THC to have differing effects on them.
It’s possible that men and women have varied responses to THC based on their current emotional states. THC increased women’s anxiety more than men’s (5), while in another trial it had no effect on women and reduced men’s anxiety (6). Possible explanations for these divergent responses to THC in males and females include differences in the presence of certain hormones and neurotransmitters.
The results of the study suggest that THC’s effects on men and women may vary. These variances are likely due to a number of causes, such as the chemical makeup of the brains of each sex, the presence of various hormones and neurotransmitters, and individual variability in sensitivity to THC. More research is needed to better understand these differences and how men and women might utilize THC for therapeutic or recreational purposes.
(1) Haney, M., Ward, A. S., Comer, S. D., Foltin, R. W., & Fischman, M. W. (1999). Abstinence symptoms following smoked marijuana in humans. Psychopharmacology, 141(1), 395-404.
(2) Huestis, M. A. (1992). Human cannabinoid pharmacokinetics. Critical Reviews in Clinical Laboratory Sciences, 29(4), 361-381.
(3) Wachtel, S. R., ElSohly, M. A., Ross, S. A., Ambre, J., & de Wit, H. (2002). The effects of gender and dose on marijuana’s acute subjective and performance effects. Psychopharmacology, 161(1), 33-45.
(4) Perez-Reyes, M., Hill, D. L., & Davis, K. H. (1982). Influence of gender on the disposition of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, 71(10), 1208-1211.
(5) Cooper, Z. D., Haney, M., & Foltin, R. W. (2016). Sex differences in the subjective and reinforcing effects of oral THC. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 159, 214-220.
(6) Haney, M., Rabkin, J., Gunderson, E., & Foltin, R. W. (2007). Dronabinol and marijuana in HIV(+) marijuana smokers: Acute effects on caloric intake and mood. Psychopharmacology, 191(3), 757-765.