Females may get higher from smoking weed than males, according to a new series of animal studies. Although it is inappropriate to draw conclusions about how marijuana impacts men and women from mere mouse studies, sex differences observed in animals often hold in humans. So whether or not these studies directly translate to the bowl you’re sharing with your spouse, it is not unreasonable to suspect that men and women may process pot differently. It’s all about what weed does to your brain.
“Females seem to be more vulnerable, at a neurochemical level, in developing an addiction to cannabis,” study coauthor Liana Fattore, a Senior Researcher at the National Research Council of Italy and President of the Mediterranean Society of Neuroscience, said in a statement. “Interactions between the endocannabinoid system and the brain level of dopamine—the neurotransmitter of “pleasure” and “reward”—are sex-dependent.”
Estradiol seems to be the culprit—a form of estrogen which drives sexual functioning, and also seems to influence how rats respond to intoxication. The endocannabinoid system, a network of neurotransmitters and receptors that respond to the active ingredient in marijuana, has also been shown to influence estradiol production. Scientists suspect female rats have a stronger affinity to marijuana and are at higher risk of addiction, because they have more estradiol to begin with—and, when their body detects marijuana, it makes even more estradiol.
Of course, this means nothing in particular for humans. “The study’s application to humans is largely unreasonable,” Dr. Jordan Tishler who has worked as a cannabis specialist for more than 20 years (and was not involved in the study) told Fatherly. “On a behavioral level, mice and humans have very little in common.”
Past research on humans does indicate that men and women demonstrate differing clinical needs when it comes to treating Cannabis Use Disorder, or CUD, and that men are more likely to use marijuana. And scientists agree that more human research is necessary. But, based on the limited evidence available, there is no reason to believe that women are more likely to suffer adverse effects. For instance, “we know that human females are not more likely to develop CUD than men,” Tishler says. For now, this leaves us with a fascinating mouse study. And not much else.
Kelly Cosgrove, a professor of psychiatry at Yale, told Fatherly that this illustrates the importance of conducting and funding more research into the effects of cannabis. “There is a growing preclinical, animal literature that is beginning to address some of these questions, but the human literature is premature – more research is needed.”
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