Cannabis is a fascinating and poorly understood drug. Despite being one of the oldest domesticated crops, despite having significance to almost every culture on Earth, cannabis isn’t terribly well understood, especially in how it affects the human body and mind. As a result, most weed users operate on incredibly outdated perceptions of “indica” and “sativa” strains.
Thanks to efforts to legalize both psychoactive marijuana and non-psychoactive hemp, researchers have more access to the plant than ever before, meaning we are on the verge of impactful breakthroughs in cannabis science. Already, some initial research has provided outstanding insight into the effects of cannabinoids — and there is some evidence that weed might provide different experiences for men and women.
In animal studies, there is only marginal differentiation in how marijuana affects the sexes; rats, monkeys and other animal models indicate that males and females metabolize cannabinoids in similar fashions, maintaining comparable amounts of THC in their bloodstream and reacting to that THC in similar ways. In human studies, however, the opposite seems to be true. Largely thanks to differing hormones, men and women regulate cannabinoids differently, resulting in notably different mental and physical effects.
How Men Experience Cannabis
When a man smokes weed, the decarboxylated cannabinoids seep into the blood through the lungs and rush to cannabinoid receptors throughout the body. The most prevalent cannabinoid within marijuana, THC, veritably floods the blood stream in men, overwhelming their innate endocannabinoid system to a substantial degree. THC molecules largely bind to receptors in the brain — in the cerebellum, basal ganglia and hippocampus, affecting a man’s short-term memory, coordination and ability to solve problems. Additionally, THC seems to bind in high quantities to receptors in the digestive tract, making men more susceptible to marijuana-fueled feelings of hunger.
Yet, men are more susceptible to experiencing panic and personality disorders as a result of consuming too much marijuana because their systems permit such a high concentration of THC. Men also experience a considerable drop — about half a degree Celsius — in their body temperature, which in conjunction with a stimulated appetite can drive them to over-eat while high. Finally, male cannabis users report a significant drop in their sexual drive, which can linger beyond the experience of being high.
How Women Experience Cannabis
Estrogen, one of two primary sex hormones that help regulate female bodies, has a significant impact on a woman’s marijuana experience by regulating cannabinoid receptor density and signal transduction. In other words, estrogen can alter THC’s impact on the mind and body, reducing its effectiveness or else changing its effects altogether.
Aside from a generally weaker high, women also tend to have a few symptoms that most men never experience, such as a lack of pain sensation and catalepsy, or sudden muscular rigidity and non-responsiveness. In direct opposition to the male experience, female cannabis users report a stronger libido, which could be the result THC lowering testosterone, enhancing estrogen’s power over a woman’s body and mind. Many women have been so pleased by the drug’s impact on their sexual experience that California marijuana dispensaries do sell products for this targeted purpose.
However, it is important to note that women’s bodies are much more dynamic than men’s. At one moment in her monthly cycle, a woman might have a body flooded with estrogen, skyrocketing her marijuana tolerance; at another moment, she might enjoy much lower estrogen levels, increasing the number of cannabinoid receptors in her body and altering her high. In general, women using cannabis as a medical treatment might need to adjust their dosage throughout their cycle to combat their fluctuating estrogen.
What All This Means
Unfortunately, as occurs too often within the scientific and medical community, the male experience of marijuana is the most popular understanding of marijuana experience and thus tends to dominate discussions of the drug’s effects. Admittedly, men make up a greater percentage of marijuana users, so it does follow that the dominant marijuana experience is a male one; however, it is worth noting that the most well-known experience is not the only experience.
Men and women alike stand to benefit by better understanding how the drug is interacting with their hormones and thereby affecting their bodies and minds. By learning as much as possible about THC and the endocannabinoid system, every weed enthusiast can enjoy a better high.