Years of research have shown a direct connection between ingesting marijuana and feeling pain relief — but could this beneficial side effect vary by gender?

A new study from researchers at Columbia University Medical Center found that men felt greater pain relief than women after smoking marijuana. In the study, participants smoked the same amount of either an active or placebo form of cannabis, and then they immersed their hand in cold water until the pain could no longer be tolerated. In a short pain questionnaire, men reported a significant decrease in pain sensitivity and an increase in pain tolerance. Meanwhile, women did not experience a significant decrease in pain sensitivity. Interestingly though, females did feel a small increase in pain tolerance shortly after smoking.

"These findings come at a time when more people, including women, are turning to the use of medical cannabis for pain relief," said Ziva Cooper, PhD, associate professor of clinical neurobiology at CUMC. "Preclinical evidence has suggested that the experience of pain relief from cannabis-related products may vary between sexes, but no studies have been done to see if this is true in humans."

In the research, data was examined from two placebo-controlled studies, which both looked at the analgesic effects of cannabis in 42 recreational smokers. It's well-documented in research that different medications affect men and women differently. For example, women often respond better to certain antidepressants and antipsychotics than men, Everyday Health reported, so it's not a huge surprise that men and women would be affected by marijuana differently.

Now what? Future studies in both genders will help to further understand the factors that impact the cannabinoids’ analgesic effects, including strength, mode of delivery, frequency of use, and type of pain measured, study authors said.

Cannabinoids are the active chemicals in cannabis products. According to Leafly, these chemical compounds are responsible for providing relief to an array of symptoms including pain, nausea and inflammation. Cannabis contains at least 85 types of cannabinoids, many of which have documented medical value.

"This study underscores the importance of including both men and women in clinical trials aimed at understanding the potential therapeutic and negative effects of cannabis, particularly as more people use cannabinoid products for recreational or medical purposes," said Dr. Cooper.

Source: Coop Z, Haney M. Sex-Dependent Effects of Cannabis-Induced Analgesia. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 2016.

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