Drugs

Women May Be More Sensitive To Marijuana's Main Ingredient, But Isn't Everyone?

Women Smoking Weed
A National Institute on Drug Abuse-funded study has found that women might be more sensitive to marijuana's active ingredient, but are they really? Photo courtesy of arindambanerjee / Shutterstock

Just last week, the National Institutes of Health posted a listing with the hope of finding people who can “cultivate and harvest, process, analyze, store, and distribute cannabis (marijuana) for research,” among other tasks. Medical marijuana is currently legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia, and as it becomes more ingrained into the American lifestyle, the government has taken more of an interest in determining its effects on the population. Now, a new study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse has found that women may be more sensitive to the drug's effects.

Led by Professor Rebecca Craft of Washington State University, the study found that women may be up to 30 percent more sensitive to the pain-relieving qualities of marijuana. Because of this, they may also develop a tolerance to the drug similar to opioid painkiller patients. As tolerance builds, a patient may need higher doses to get the same effect, thus leading toward dependence, or so the researchers said. However, Craft’s study was conducted on rats, which can leave an air of skepticism.

“Marijuana is very different than it was 40 years ago,” Craft said in a press release. “It’s much higher in THC (delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol) and lower in cannabidiol, so a little bit goes a long way.” Cannabidiol is the chemical in marijuana that’s partially responsible for pain relief. In a study from 2011, researchers found that it has antixiolytic (able to prevent anxiety), antipsychotic, antiemetic (able to prevent nausea and vomiting), and anti-inflammatory properties.

The researchers found that female rats given doses of THC 30 percent lower than those given to males became especially tolerant to THC during ovulation, which was also when their estrogen levels had peaked and were on the verge of coming down. However, it doesn’t seem that tolerance to cannabidiol would have been affected, according to another 2007 study. So, in essence, if a woman was to smoke marijuana, chances are she wouldn’t get as high as she normally would, but still experience the same pain-relieving effects. In addition to that, both men and women develop tolerance to THC over time, though whether or not that spurs dependence on the drug is another issue.

Roughly 17.4 million Americans use marijuana regularly. Though women are rarely considered users, more and more are coming out in support of marijuana, with some of the more prominent names including Oprah, Whoopi Goldberg, and Jennifer Aniston.   

Source: Wakley A, Wiley J, Craft R. Sex differences in antinociceptive tolerance to delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol in the rat. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 2014. 

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