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Why cannabis affects women differently to men

The new research, which is timely in the era of increased legalization of cannabis around the world, studies the influence of sex hormones like testosterone, estradiol (estrogen), and progesterone on the endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system refers to the networks of brain cells that communicate using the same family of chemicals found in cannabis, called “cannabinoids.” These are neurotransmitters that bind to cannabinoid receptors and cannabinoid receptor proteins which are expressed throughout the central nervous system (including the brain).

READ MORE: How coffee works like cannabis

Cannabis is a regular feature in news. Notably, in recent months, the legalization in Canada has been predominant, together with supply problems where numerous stores have empty shelves along with disgruntled customers. There have also been advances with research around medical cannabis. For example, researchers from the University of New Mexico have reported on two studies which document how patients experience clinically significant therapeutic benefits after using cannabis, for symptoms ranged from chronic pain to insomnia.

However, there is much about cannabis use on the body that is unknown, unclear, or contested. This includes adverse health effects, including the risk of developing addiction. To explore sex differences in relation to cannabis, new research has been confuted by Dr Liana Fattore, who is a senior researcher at the National Research Council of Italy. The research is based on animal studies.

The research reveals that men are up to four times more likely to try cannabis—and use higher doses, more frequently. This is due to a combination of socio-cultural factors, biological factors, and hormonal fluctuations. Dr. Fattore tells Laboratory Manager magazine: “Male sex steroids increase risk-taking behavior and suppress the brain’s reward system, which could explain why males are more likely to try drugs, including cannabis. This is true for both natural male sex steroids like testosterone and synthetic steroids like nandrolone.”

The research also reveals that women are more vulnerable. This is despite lower average cannabis use with females. The research indicates that women go from first hit to habit faster than men. It also stands that females are more vulnerable, due to neurochemical reactions, in developing addiction to cannabis more than men. This appears to be because idea that estradiol (the major female sex hormone) regulates the female response to cannabinoids.

The new research has been published in the journal Frontiers of Behavioral Neuroscience, and it is titled “The Modulating Role of Sex and Anabolic-Androgenic Steroid Hormones in Cannabinoid Sensitivity.”

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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