The impact of hormones on the effects of cannabis can be complex and often misunderstood. While past studies have indicated that the effects of cannabis are the same for men and women, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that hormonal fluctuations throughout the month can have a significant impact.
In this article, we explore whether cannabis affects men and women differently and why this may be the case. Specifically, we look at the relationship between cannabis and the menstrual cycle, the effects of estrogen, progesterone, and endocannabinoids, and the difference in the effects of cannabis edibles on men and women. As always please reach out if you would like to discuss further.
Additionally, we would like to extend an invitation to researchers who are currently exploring the female menstrual cycle. If you are interested in collaborating further with us, please do not hesitate to reach out to us.
One prominent place to start is the menstrual cycle. Over the course of the month, a woman’s hormones vary pretty dramatically. The first half of the menstrual cycle is the ‘follicular phase’, where estrogen sharply increases, eventually reaching peak levels. This is followed by ovulation, during which, large concentrations of progesterone are produced. Then, if no conception takes place, progesterone and estrogen levels drop, triggering a period and the end of the cycle.
Within this, we also see stark changes in endocannabinoid levels, which we’ll explore in the next section! So, what’s this got to do with cannabis? Well, it’s incredibly complex. But let’s try and squeeze it into a nutshell…
During the follicular phase, when estrogen increases, so does sensitivity to cannabis. But it’s not just about THC, as many people think. In fact, one study found that although crude cannabis extract competed with estradiol for binding to the estrogen receptor, THC-9 on its own did not. Apigenin (a flavonoid phytoestrogen found in cannabis), however, displayed a high affinity for the estrogen receptor.
As so often seems to be the case with cannabis research, another (laboratory animal) study found something quite different: female rats are at least 30 per cent more sensitive than males to the pain-relieving qualities of THC due to estrogen levels. Thus, also increasing vulnerability to negative side effects such as anxiety, paranoia and addiction during the times of the month when estrogen levels are high.
However, because estrogen levels change throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle, so do the effects of cannabis.
While tolerance is very low when estrogen is high, when it drops, tolerance sky-rockets…
After the follicular phase comes ovulation, sparked by a drop in estrogen and a release of progesterone - the chemical culprit for causing many dreaded PMS symptoms when it starts dropping again. During this time, THC has been found to reduce the amount of progesterone produced, and therefore potentially PMS symptoms too!1
The female reproductive system and the endocannabinoid system are completely intertwined, and endocannabinoids play a massive role in this cycle. Many women find their cannabis tolerance goes way up when approaching their period (unlike that super sensitivity at the start of the cycle), and this is likely to be down to the fact that CB1 receptors (the one THC and endocannabinoids anandamide and 2-AG bind to) increase in the body during this time.
The female body needs more cannabinoids (or endocannabinoids) at this point in the cycle, which often leads to an endocannabinoid deficiency (and the symptoms that go along with that). So, when you use cannabis (or CBD) when this is going on, your tolerance will be A LOT higher than usual. But of course, the 'right amount' will differ for everyone.
Looking at a different way of consuming cannabinoids, interesting findings have emerged regarding the difference in the effect of 11-OH-THC (the kind that comes from THC going through the digestive process - ie. Edibles) between males and females.
As it turns out, 11-OH-THC production is modulated by gonadal hormones - produced by the testes in men and the ovaries in women. Females appear to produce a lot more 11-OH-THC when THC is ingested than males (potentially due to different enzymes produced by the female vs male liver).
With this in mind, it might be wise for women to go slightly lower on edible doses than men! Although, considering how much stronger 11-OH-THC is than 9-THC…it’s probably wise for everyone to start low and go slow anyway!
Further differences include how THC is stored in fat tissue (women naturally tend to have higher levels of fat than men) and greater CB1 receptor availability in women than men. It would appear that the contrast in how cannabis affects the female and male body is stark in many areas - and it's largely down to hormones. (See TNL’s piece on Water-soluble or Oil-Soluble Cannabinoids: Exploring mechanisms of absorption, bioavailability, and fat solubility of cannabis products for further insight)
Of course, everyone is different, and what might apply to a healthy female or male might not apply where there is a condition to be treated with cannabinoids or an endocannabinoid deficiency. While the sex differences of cannabis are fascinating and perhaps a jumping-off point for many to deepen their relationship with cannabis in a well-informed way, it’s equally important to pay attention to your own body and its unique needs. As a reminder, a ‘Therapeutic Dose’ is how much is required to achieve your objective. Many factors affect cannabinoid dosages, such as age, sex, body weight, and metabolism. Consulting a professional is always recommended.
Do you have a product targeting female consumers, or are you a female brand looking for help? Please get in touch with a member of the team. We focus primarily on cannabinoid-based solutions and delivery mechanisms. However, we also love to harness the power of other herbs and plants based ingredients to create innovative and effective products that cover a broad range of female consumer needs.
 While some research suggests that THC may impact progesteronelevels, it is essential to note that the effects of cannabis on hormone levels are not fully understood, and further research is needed to draw definitive conclusions. Additionally, using cannabis during pregnancy is not recommendeddue to potential risks to the developing fetus. It is always essential to consult with a healthcare professional before using any substance to address medical concerns. Our goal is to provide educational information that empowers consumers to make informed decisions and to progress open dialogue to help further our knowledge. An interesting paper about low progesterone and miscarriage: https://sites.google.com/site/miscarriageresearch/hormones-and-miscarriage/progesterone-research/progesterone-and-miscarriage
For previous insights on menopause, please read "Can cannabis help treat menopausal symptoms, is THC good for menopause, and is CBD oil good for menopause? We look at cannabinoid solutions".