A new research paper titled “Women are Taking the Hit: Examining the Unique Consequences of Cannabis Use Across the Female Lifespan” examines the impacts of cannabis use on women . Cannabis uniquely affects the female body and impacts women differently than men. This can be seen in the different signs of cannabis use disorder in women versus men, adolescent effects, and therapeutic applications. If you are a woman who uses cannabis, read on to learn what sets your experience apart from male cannabis users.
Perinatal Cannabis Use
With the rise of cannabis legalization, there has also been a rise in cannabis use among pregnant women. While some pregnant women may view cannabis as a natural remedy for the discomforts of pregnancy, the truth is that using cannabis while pregnant does present major risks to the health of the baby. Cannabinoids are able to pass through the placenta and through breast milk . Infants that are exposed to cannabinoids before and after birth are at high risk for disruptions to neurodevelopment, particularly a condition called “excitotoxicity.” In excitotoxicity, nerve cells suffer death and damage due to dangerously high levels of neurotransmitters. Using cannabis while pregnant can also lead to complications in pregnancy.
Female Adolescent Cannabis Use
Adolescent cannabis use can have major impacts on long-term mental health. In women, adolescent cannabis use disrupts the balance of excitatory and inhibitory neurons which alters cognitive functioning . This puts adolescent women who use cannabis at a greater risk of developing mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia.
Cannabis Use Disorder in Women
Cannabis is one of the most widely used drugs in the world with 4% of the global adult population, and 17.9% of the American population partaking . While cannabis has a reputation as a non-addictive substance, frequent cannabis users do risk a form of dependence known as “Cannabis Use Disorder.” This disorder has long-term implications such as changes to cognitive functioning, dysregulation of stress responses, lowered fertility, and increased mental health disorders.
Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD) is more common among men than women . Men with Cannabis Use Disorder exhibit more frequent cannabis use than women and also use cannabis that is higher in potency. Men also experience a unique regional distribution of cannabinoid receptor 1. Here are some of the ways cannabis uniquely affects men :
- Higher circulating levels of delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
- Larger cardiovascular and subjective effects than female smokers
- More evident withdrawal symptoms
- Less likely to be cannabis-only drug users (polysubstance cannabis users)
- Higher prevalence of panic disorder and personality disorders
- Lowered sexual behavior
For women, it is less likely to develop Cannabis Use Disorder but the development of CUD is expedited compared to men . Women with Cannabis Use Disorder experience unique hormonal disruptions and different effects of psychoactive metabolites. Here are some ways that cannabis uniquely affects women in comparison to men :
- Women experience more dizziness and visuospatial memory impairment
- More likely to smoke marijuana mainly when they feel anxious
- Women experience more catalepsy, antinociception (pain relief), and locomotor effects
- Increased sexual behavior
Therapeutic Cannabis Use for Women
While women need to take special consideration of the unique health risks of cannabis, they also should be aware that it has some unique benefits for women’s health. For men and women, medical cannabis can provide therapeutic benefits for a number of diseases and disorders like Multiple Sclerosis, Alzheimer’s Disease, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder . Medical cannabis can also help relieve pain from endometriosis, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), and other uterine disorders.
- Fattore, L., & Fratta, W. (2010). How important are sex differences in cannabinoid action?. British journal of pharmacology, 160(3), 544-548.
- Gräfe, E. L., Reid, H. M. O., Shkolnikov, I., Conway, K., Kit, A., Acosta, C., & Christie, B. R. (2023). Women are Taking the Hit: Examining the Unique Consequences of Cannabis Use Across the Female Lifespan. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, 101076.