It’s no secret that men and women are very different. So it’s not uncommon for people to wonder if CBD affects women differently than men.
The honest answer is that we don’t yet know for sure. But there is growing evidence that indicates there are differences in how cannabis products affect each gender. This appears to be because men and women have unique biological systems and reactions to the compounds in cannabis.
The goal of this article is to explore the research and discuss the potential gender-based differences in the effects of CBD and cannabis products in general.
Basic Differences Between Men and Women
There are notable differences between males and females that extend beyond the surface. One of the variations between the genders is the brain and how it responds. The brain is a “sex-typed organ” with marked structural and physical differences. These differences can lead to divergent emotional responses, behaviors, and cognitive abilities for males and females.
Sex hormones have been known to play a significant role in regulating various processes of the body for each sex. They can impact how our genes are expressed and lead to different cellular responses within the body.
Males mostly produce hormones such as testosterone. They are associated with not just regulating sexual functioning, but also muscle and bone mass, mood, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels. Females primarily create estrogen and progesterone hormones. They modulate the stages of the reproductive cycle along with the skin, hair, heart and blood vessels, neurological activity, and more.
It has been documented that anxiety disorders and major depression are generally more prevalent among women than men. Not to mention, females are possibly at higher risk for autoimmune diseases compared to males. Though the exact reasons are not well understood, scientists believe these disorders could likely be linked to sex hormones, a predisposition from chromosomes, and different wiring of neural circuitry.
Men experience a much more subtle decline in their reproductive functioning. In addition, hormone production can remain stable well into old age. On the other hand, women generally experience an evident beginning (menstruation) and end (menopause) in the reproductive process.
For women, there are stages in between like pregnancy, childbirth, and perimenopause as well. Throughout all the stages of the reproductive process, women encounter several fluctuations in sex hormones. They can also notice effects like pain, mood changes, and decreased libido in addition to other challenges. All of this can result in a vastly different experience for women compared to men.
Different Endocannabinoid Systems by Gender?
The endocannabinoid system exists in everyone’s body regardless of whether you use cannabis or not. It’s a biological system of molecules (known as endocannabinoids), receptors and enzymes that helps to keep the body in balance. It influences many of the body’s most important functions, including sleep, mood appetite and reproduction.
Research supports the idea that the endocannabinoid system may differ by gender. If true, this would help explain why CBD and other cannabinoids may affect women differently than men.
Specifically, research suggests that each sex may have distinctions in the CB1 and CB2 receptors throughout the body. A January 2019 study found there is a greater concentration of CB1 receptors in males versus females. Despite that, females often show a wider variation in CB1 receptor expression throughout the stages of their reproductive process likely attributed to hormone changes. Another study published in April 2008 looked at endocannabinoid levels in development and noticed that females developed all of their CB1 receptors much earlier than males.
Moreover, male and female CB1 and CB2 receptors can respond differently to the same circumstances. For example, one study examining the effects of rats’ pain responses given Delta 9 THC revealed that the inhibition of pain was mitigated by only CB1 receptors in males and both CB1 and CB2 receptors in females.
Differences in the Effects of Cannabinoids
In addition to the endocannabinoids already in our bodies, you introduce exogenous cannabinoids to your body when you consume CBD or other cannabis products. How the body reacts to these cannabinoids may also be different by gender.
In a March 2021 review of studies, scientists examined sex differences in pain perception in response to cannabinoids. In general, they found variance in the expression of pain with female and male rodents. Their data showed that Delta 9 THC is more potent in female rats than male rats. Female rats also demonstrated higher levels of the endocannabinoids 2-AG and Anandamide in the brain compared to males. Although, the levels of these endocannabinoids varied throughout the reproductive cycle.
Additionally, cannabinoids can be involved in balancing energy levels. In a January 2009 study conducted in rodents, findings indicated exogenous cannabinoids can induce greater energy intake for males than females. Males demonstrated increased meal size, frequency and duration while females only exhibited increased frequency of meals.
Interestingly, scientific studies have indicated further cannabinoid differences in sexual functioning. Delta 9 THC was shown to reduce sexual drive and functioning in male rats, while small amounts were shown to enhance female arousal.
Based on the research, there do seem to be differences and women may benefit more from cannabis due to them. But it’s important to remember that these findings are not conclusive. More research is needed to better understand the sex-dependent effects of cannabis.
How Women Can Benefit from Cannabis
There is a substantial amount of data which indicates that using cannabis can provide relief for several types of health concerns. Women often experience anxiety, depression, and undesirable side effects during the various reproductive stages of life. As a result, there is reason to believe women can especially benefit from using cannabinoids like CBD, CBG and THC.
Throughout a woman’s life, hormonal changes can trigger unpleasant experiences such as mood swings, pain, low energy levels, low libido, and more. Delta 9 THC has been shown in a January 2020 study to help reduce pain and inflammation associated with disorders like endometriosis. CBD has been shown to offer promising benefits for anxiety and reducing inflammation as well as other positive effects. Because the endocannabinoid system can influence hormones and pain receptors, THC and CBD have the ability to interact with the CB1 and CB2 receptors to mitigate these effects and restore balance.
Since women commonly experience more anxiety, they may activate the fight or flight mode frequently. This may potentially lead to a quicker depletion of endogenous endocannabinoids. Thus, they may gain more from using exogenous cannabinoids to help the endocannabinoid system function properly. Reducing anxiety could also possibly result in other added benefits like better sleep and improved focus.
Along with that, cannabinoids may provide several benefits to enhance intimate encounters, specifically for women. Based on a review of studies, most women who used marijuana prior to physical intimacy reported more satisfaction than those who didn’t use it. CB1 receptors found throughout the brain have been suggested to be involved in the pleasure reward system and Delta 9 THC has been shown to enhance the rewarding effects in the brain. CBD could also decrease anxiety levels to allow women to focus on physical intimacy. Furthermore, cannabinoids, like THC and CBD are able to widen blood vessels allowing for increased blood flow to the reproductive organs. These factors could perhaps enhance the sexual libido in women.
As more data emerges from research, it seems that women can benefit from using exogenous cannabinoids such as those found in CBD products to help alleviate pain, inflammation and other health challenges.
Choosing a CBD Product for Women
There are some important considerations when choosing a hemp-derived CBD oil product. First, you’ll likely want to choose a full spectrum product. Based on a poll of users in our Facebook group, they are preferred over CBD products without THC.
Full spectrum means it contains all the naturally-occurring compounds found in the cannabis plant. This includes trace amounts of THC (less than 0.3%), but you won’t notice any psychoactive effects. All of the molecules in the cannabis plant work synergistically to offer more therapeutic benefit, referred to as the “entourage effect”.
In addition, it’s important to know where the hemp is sourced and that it doesn’t contain harmful substances. Make sure your CBD product is tested in a third-party lab and has a Certificates of Analysis (COA) to verify the potency and safety of the product.
Dosing CBD for Women
For dosing, it’s recommended to start off low and slow. Each person has their own unique dosage and the best way to discover this is to consume small doses and gradually increase over time as needed.
There are a few different options for how you take CBD. Tinctures, edibles, and capsules are easier and more precise methods of dosing compared to vaping. Topical products are typically used for localized treatment rather than holistic health concerns. Topical CBD products don’t enter the bloodstream like ingested products so they can be applied more liberally. It’s helpful to pay attention to your body after taking CBD to see how much and what method of delivery is best for you.
Women may require more variance in their dosing depending on their hormone fluctuations and changes in their bodies over time. As discussed above, women’s bodies are different and can have wavering responses to cannabinoids. Women may need a higher dose to experience pain-relieving properties of THC compared to men.
Women have different biological characteristics than men and experience additional reproductive phases. So it seems reasonable to assume that women’s endocannabinoid systems would respond differently to cannabinoids.
The research to date seems to back this theory up. But there is an obvious need for more clinical research to further explore this topic and fully understand how CBD may affect women differently than men.