Can Weed Affect Women Differently?

This wonder plant is said to cure a lot of what ails us—but research for how cannabis affects women specifically is still lacking

(Art: Joel Louzado)
(Art: Joel Louzado)

Tell me if you’ve heard this one: I’ve got 99 problems and CBD oil solved about 86 of them. This cheeky meme has been floating around the internet for a few years, and while we are just now digging into the science of how effective CBD (or cannabidiol, a component found in cannabis) can be for treating anxiety, pain, epilepsy and more, there is myriad anecdotal evidence that claims CBD is a wonder drug.

Another claim that is being bandied about the cannabis community is that these effects are stronger in women. It is believed that we have more cannabinoid receptors in our body than men—and that those receptors are centered around our reproductive organs—which could explain why women have reported success using cannabis to aid in period pain, endometriosis and the like.

In the early ’90s scientists discovered that humans have what is called an endocannabinoid system, and that system is what interacts with cannabinoids when we consume the still-controversial cannabis plant. Said plant has more than 110 cannabinoids, some of which you may have heard of—like THC (aka, tetrahydrocannabinol, the compound that gives you a head euphoria) and CBD (which doesn’t have psychoactive effects, but produces a body euphoria).

“We know that the endocannabinoid system regulates homeostasis in the body, and can effect a number of other systems,” explains Michelle Latinsky, the director of education with licensed producer Aphria. “These receptors are everywhere in the body—they’re in the brain and the central nervous system, and within the reproductive system. Using cannabis can stimulate these receptors.”

But there’s still a lot we don’t know about the effects, and even though the cannabis industry continues to grow in Canada, we still seem to be lacking any true scientific data, especially when it comes to the effects on women—which is frustrating considering the amount of money that the big LPs are putting behind marketing cannabis to us for everything from helping us to relax to having better sex. But because it is still an emerging industry, the hope among many in the cannabis community is that some of the newer studies coming out will indeed focus on women and men separately—something that hasn’t really happened in the past in all aspects of medical research.

For now, we can rely on that anecdotal evidence of how weed affects women differently, of which there is no shortage. I personally use cannabis for painful period cramps, as well as when I am training for a long distance race to treat post workout muscle soreness. And I have noticed major benefits in both of these areas of my life—my period cramps disappear a few minutes after ingesting CBD oil or vapourizing, and my legs were much less sore throughout my training schedule last fall than I had previously experienced. And I have heard countless similar stories from many other women—if I were to make a list of the ways cannabis can specifically help women, it would include: PMS, period cramps, endometriosis, menopause, better sex and more. (See why the above meme is so on point?)

Carly Stojsic, a cannabis advocate and trend forecaster, says she turns to cannabis on a regular basis both for PMS symptoms and even for more a pleasurable sexual experience. “Increased sensitivity means I’m deriving heightened pleasure everywhere physically, but it also allows me to betterconnect with partners mentally,” she says.

“Ingesting cannabis can make it easier to connect with your partner and relax, it can reduce anxiety, and heighten sensation,” agrees Tabitha Fritz, co-founder a women’s sexual health brand called Bast. “Personally, I find that my orgasms are more intense when I’m using a cannabis topical.” She explains that THC lubes help increase blood flow to the vagina, which in turn increases sensation down there. “And lubes that contain CBD are also perfect for relieving any inflammation and pain that may come along with sex.”

And while men can and do certainly use cannabis to treat issues, including stress and anxiety, it can affect their bodies in totally different ways. For example, recently my husband and I had polar opposite reactions to the same strain of cannabis that we consumed while watching a movie at home. He felt great, calm and conversational. I almost immediately felt some anxiety, and was happy that we weren’t venturing outside our house.

And the way your body responds to cannabis can also change from week to week. “Women are affected differently by cannabis at different times in their hormonal cycle,” says Fritz, who notes that, according to some studies, next to the brain, a woman’s reproductive organs contain the highest concentration of endocannabinoid receptors in the human body. “In general, we see that the higher your estrogen levels, the more easily affected you are by cannabis. When a woman is on or about to start her period, her estrogen levels are at their lowest. This lack of estrogen actually makes it harder for endocannabinoids like anandamide, which is a natural endocannabinoid that is known for its uplifting effects, to be present in the body.”

So essentially, where we’re lacking anandamide, consuming cannabis and introducing cannabinoids to our system will help replace that depletion. But, it is also worth noting that cannabis interacts with estrogen in a unique way—making women more sensitive to the other side affects of cannabis, for better and for worse. The pros: Women generally don’t get the munchies as much as men, it can increase our sexual desire, and cannabis has a stronger effect on pain on women. The cons: Women can form a cannabis disorder faster than men, and some high THC-level strains may cause more anxiety and depression. (Perhaps that explains my reaction.)

Despite its obvious benefits, stigma still plays a big role in how we view cannabis, especially for women. “I have three meetings this afternoon that may include wine and then I’m going to an art show with my sister that will include wine,” says Amy Wasserman, vice-president of branding and marketing at Canopy Growth. “But it’s just this complete normalcy that surrounds alcohol and wine in particular. And then this sort of judgement and stigma that exists for women who want to consume cannabis in different ways, shapes and forms, that we need to fix.”

One thing that Wasserman says she is looking forward to when more research becomes available, especially female-centric research, is that the stigma surrounding the plant will hopefully fall away and make room for more conversations about the health benefits of the plant, specifically for women.

Whether women are using it for relaxation purposes, as an alternative to drinking or for health reasons, cannabis is becoming a bigger part of our lifestyles—and we need the research to understand all its implications, the good and the bad.


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