With cannabis usage increasing in recent years, it's important to take a look at how the substance impacts those who turn to it for recreational or medical reasons. Now, thanks to new research, we know that cannabis affects women and men differently.
In fact, according to the study, conducted by researchers at the National Research Council of Italy and published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, women are more likely to become dependent on the drug than their male counterparts.
Researchers used laboratory animals to test the biological differences. Dr. Liana Fattore, lead author on the study and a senior researcher at the National Research Council of Italy, noted in a statement that this process had its own inherent flaws because it's "pretty hard to get laboratory animals to self-administer cannabinoids like human cannabis users." However, she further explained that the study did reveal that sex hormones interact with the chemicals found in cannabis, called "cannabinoids," differently.
"Animal studies on the effects of sex hormones and anabolic steroids on cannabinoid self-administration behavior have contributed a lot to our current understanding of sex differences in response to cannabis," Fattore said.
The study also revealed that men are up to four times more likely to try cannabis and to use it at higher doses more frequently because of their testosterone levels. However, researchers found that women "go from first hit to habit faster than men."
"Females seem to be more vulnerable, at a neurochemical level, in developing addiction to cannabis," Fattore explained. Specifically, she said studies in rats show that the female hormone estradiol makes females more sensitive than males, and as a result, "the interactions between the endocannabinoid system and the brain level of dopamine — the neurotransmitter of 'pleasure' and 'reward' — are sex-dependent."
However, it is important to note that the researchers aren't exactly sure how this information translates to humans. "It remains unclear how sex may affect the initiation and maintenance of cannabis use in humans," Fattore told the Metro. But "animal studies strongly suggest that endogenous sex hormones modulate cannabinoid sensitivity."