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New Study: Women are More Sensitive to Cannabis

A woman takes a hit off of a bowl and prepares for the effects to settle in.
Photo by Jonathan Piccolo

Joint Opinions

New Study: Women are More Sensitive to Cannabis

With roughly half of men admitting to having tried marijuana and only a third of women saying the same, it’s no wonder the pothead image throughout society is often a male-dominated one. Is this with good reason? Or are women more private about advertising their weed use? There could be numerous explanations — either way, a recent study in the Drug and Alcohol Dependence journal suggests because of their estrogen levels, women may be more responsive to the key active ingredient in the plant.

In the study, funded by a National Institute on Drug Abuse grant, Washington state psychology professor Rebecca Craft found that female rats are at least 30 percent more sensitive than males to the pain-relieving qualities of THC, which is the ingredient in cannabis that leads to a high. The study also found the females developed a tolerance to THC more quickly.

“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,” she said.

Having the munchies appears to be the only THC reaction where males show more sensitivity than females, according to Craft who said studies in California found that THC stimulated the appetites of male animals more than those of females.

Despite the recommendation of the National Institutes of Health in 1993 to include more women in clinical drug trials, Craft said most THC tolerance evaluations have been done on males, who have more stable hormonal profiles. Is this just confirming that because of estrogen, women tend to be overall more emotional, vulnerable and — in this case — more susceptible to the side effects of drugs? Maybe.

But, even if they are biologically more sensitive to THC — culturally, women who use marijuana obviously enjoy partaking in it. Though perhaps they feel the effects more as the study suggests, maybe that’s a good thing since they are using the drug in the first place to alter their mind state.

Besides the U.S., in general, becoming more accustomed to pot use, females particularly may have a growing presence in the marijuana community thanks in part to people such as Jane West. She is the owner of Edible Events Co., an organization that seeks to mentor female business executives in the emerging marijuana industry and stages monthly events and educational happenings around the country.

“I was observing that women weren’t equally in positions of power in the industry,” West told the National Journal. “There are a lot of eager young professionals and so little information about who enters it.”

West’s work to encourage more women to enter the weed industry includes an idea to rebrand the plant as more “luxury” and “cosmopolitan.” Portraying the act of smoking as glamorous isn’t exactly novel — look at how tobacco used to be — but in the case of marijuana it could be especially effective. As cigarettes mostly get vilified as death sticks nowadays, pot could be becoming more charming in general.

Are you a woman who smokes cannabis? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below.

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