Culture Medical Research

The Differences in Cannabis Effects on Men and Women

Written by Petar Petrov

Given all the psychological, physiological, and hormonal differences that men and women have, when cannabis comes into the equation, it’s bound to produce different effects, at least on certain levels.

Cannabis Affects Women More

That may come as a surprise because men tend to personify the “stoner” stereotype. But this is not about the quantity consumed — it’s about which gender is affected more by the same quantity, and that’s women.

This is largely attributed to estrogen famously increasing cannabis sensitivity. That being said, the matter isn’t so straightforward. A conflict arises when we isolate cannabis-induced pain relief and juxtapose it in human and animal studies. In humans, limited evidence suggests it’s actually men who obtain stronger pain-relief from cannabis. [1] Female rats, however, are said to experience stronger cannabis-induced pain relief than males, the difference being attributed to estrogen. [2]

While rats and humans are more alike than we might care to admit, there is one particular difference in our physiologies that might explain the aforementioned paradox. A study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology explains that “women have a higher percentage of body fat than men, suggesting that women experience weaker effects because more delta-9-THC [tetrahydrocannabinol] is retained by fat cells.” But this phenomenon is reversed in the rodent kingdom. “In contrast to human males, male rodents have a higher percentage of body fat, which could account, at least partly, for the different results reported from human and animal studies.” [3]

Something else that can possibly make cannabis’s impact more pronounced on females (if we go by rodents) is enzymatic activity: “levels of delta-9-THC metabolites in brain tissue, including 11-hydroxy-delta-9-THC, are higher in females than in males, likely contributing to the greater behavioural effects of delta-9-THC in female compared to male rats.” [3]

Women Build Tolerance Faster

Female rats build tolerance to cannabis faster than males [2], which may come as a surprise, especially when you consider what drug tolerance goes hand in hand with — addiction. And while there don’t seem to be human studies that confirm the aforementioned tolerance difference, human studies do confirm the addiction side of things — and human females seem to be more prone to developing a dependence to cannabis. [4]

Cannabis is an Aphrodisiac for…

Women again. It’s probably safe to say the surprises continue. In fact, cannabis can actually give men somewhat of a stage fright, while to women, it’s a way of getting comfortable and closer to that mystical place.  [3]


Men appear to get them more, as simple as that. [3]

Cannabis and Menstruation

When menstruation comes into the equation, the cannabis experience becomes increasingly unpredictable. This is because of fluctuations in sex hormones and changes in enzymes that break down cannabis across the menstrual cycle. [5]

According to Dr. Liana Fattore, Senior Researcher at the National Research Council of Italy, “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.”

If summing the gender differences of cannabis effects, cannabis appears to have more intense effects on women. Overall, it’s safe to say that men and women experience many effects differently.


  1. Cooper Z, Haney M. “Sex-Dependent Effects of Cannabis-Induced Analgesia.”Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 167, 2016, pp.112-20. (Journal Impact Factor = 3.466; cited by 24)
  2. Wakley AA, et al. “Sex Differences in Antinociceptive Tolerance to Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol in the Rat.” Drug and Alcohol Dependence, vol.143, no.1, 2014, pp.22-8. (Journal Impact Factor = 3.466; cited by 29)
  3. Fattore L, Fratta W. “How Important Are Sex Differences in Cannabinoid Action?” Br J Pharmacol,160, no.3, 2010, pp.544–548. (Journal Impact Factor = 6.81; cited by 89)
  4. Craft RM, et al. “Sex Differences in Cannabinoid Pharmacology: A Reflection of Differences in the Endocannabinoid System?” Life Sci, 2013, vol.92, no.8-9, pp.476-81. (Journal Impact Factor =3.448; cited by= 89)
  5. Struik D, et al. “The Modulating Role of Sex and Anabolic-Androgenic Steroid Hormones in Cannabinoid Sensitivity.” Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, vol.12, no.249, 2018. (Journal Impact Factor = 3.104; cited by= 3)

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About the author

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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