Gender differences in cannabis effects

Petar Petrov
Written by Petar Petrov

While no two people are the same, the effects of cannabis are dependent, at least to a certain extent, on our biological sex. We’re not just talking about the differences between the two sexes’ socio-cultural habits of consuming the herb, but about deeper, hormonal and neurological patterns that influence our relationship with cannabis on a physiological level.

Cannabis Effects Have a Stronger Impact On…

Females. However, there’s more to it.

The main culprit behind the stronger impact of cannabis on women is estrogen, as it has been found to heighten the effects of THC. [1] As a result, women experience up to 30% more pain relief from THC – a fact that has been established by a large body of research. [2]

Furthermore, “female rats have different levels of endocannabinoids and more sensitive receptors than males in key brain areas,” as Dr. Liana Fattore, Senior Researcher at the National Research Council of Italy, President of the Mediterranean Society of Neuroscience, explains in a study published last year. [3]

Addictive Tendencies

However, there’s a catch – women also build up a tolerance to cannabis more quickly than men [4], and are also at a higher risk of developing addictive tendencies towards it, something that’s somewhat surprising considering that men have been found to be more prone to risk behavior, as Fattore points out in the same study, and also consume more cannabis on average, accounting for roughly three quarters of all cannabis consumers.

“Females seem to be more vulnerable, at a neurochemical level, in developing addiction to cannabis,” Fattore states. [3]

The hormone that seems to be responsible for this is estradiol and its synergetic relationship with the endocannabinoid system. It affects social behavior and the filtering of sensory input, which, respectively, go on to affect estradiol production in return, creating a feedback-loop that’s quite reminiscent of the vicious cycle we associate with addiction, Fattore explains.

Sexual Behavior

Cannabis has also been found to affect men and women differently in the bedroom, with women experiencing an increase in libido while men being more likely to get performance anxiety. [5]


It’s worth noting that menstruation makes cannabis effects less predictable, and again, it leads back to estradiol:

“Blood levels of enzymes which break down cannabinoids fluctuate across the human menstrual cycle, and imaging studies show that brain levels of cannabinoid receptors increase with aging in females — mirroring in each case changes in estradiol levels,” Fattore explains.


  1. Tu, Gender Differences in the Correlates of Adolescents’ Cannabis Use,Sbst Use Misuse. 2008 Aug; 43(10): 1438–1463. (impact factor = 1.132; cited by 90)
  2. Cooper and Haney, Sex-dependent effects of cannabis-induced analgesia, Drug and Alcohol Dependence,2016 Oct 1;167:112-20. (impact factor = 3.278; cited by 18)
  1. Struik et al,. The Modulating Role of Sex and Anabolic-Androgenic Steroid Hormones in Cannabinoid SensitivityFrontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 2018; 12 (impact factor = 3.138; cited by 2)
  2. Wakley et al, Sex differences in antinociceptive tolerance to delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol in the rat, Drug Alcohol Depend. 2014 Oct 1;143:22-8. (Impact Factor = 1.821; cited by 32)
  3. Fattore, Frata. How important are sex differences in cannabinoid action?,Br J Pharmacol. 2010 Jun; 160(3): 544–548. (impact factor = 5.259; cited by 88)

Image Credits: Alternative Daily

About the author

Petar Petrov

Petar Petrov

Petar is a freelance writer and copywriter, covering culture, art, society, and anything in-between that makes for a nice story. And as it so happens, cannabis is a great element to add to each of those conversations.

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