Psychiatric researchers from Columbia University Medical Center in New York City have discovered that cannabis produces greater pain-relieving effects in men than in women. This adds to the growing body of evidence showing differences in cannabis’ effects on women and men.
Sex differences in the effects of many drugs change how people take or prescribe them. Cannabis influences systems in the body that release and control hormones, including sex hormones. Results conflict on whether smoking pot changes levels of hormones, like follicle stimulating hormone or testosterone, but the medical community has made it clear that some sex effects must exist.
In this latest study, researchers had male and female participants consume either THC or placebo and used the Cold Pressor Test to measure pain. They immersed the participants’ hands in water at 39°F and told them to report when they felt pain and their pain sensitivity. Researchers told them to hold their hands in the water as long as they could, but when they couldn’t stand it any more, they pulled their hands out, a time that represents their pain tolerance.
Psychiatric researchers reported that cannabis decreases pain sensitivity in men, but does not do so for women. THC did not influence pain tolerances across the board, though men typically tolerate cold water for longer times. These results show us another piece of the puzzle when it comes to the sex differences of cannabis on humans.
The study employed a widely used method for pain assessment, but cannabis may reduce pain in those with chronic conditions through its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, by stopping the cause of the pain. The endocannabinoid system, an internal signaling system in body sensitive to cannabis, regulates pain signaling in the central nervous system and can mediate stress-induced pain. These and other effects of THC on the body help those suffering in chronic pain states, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, etc.
Scientists have discovered other interesting differences in cannabis’ effects in men and women. One study found that cannabis inhibited motor coordination in the non-dominant hand of women more easily than it did in men, while coordination in the dominant hand remained the same in both. On another note, some studies have found that cannabis impairs attention in males more so than in females.
We may never know the true story of how cannabis affects men versus women. For many reasons, it is not a very easy question to study, and the results may be controversial and not easily resolved. One way or another, the important thing to keep in mind is that drugs, or plants, rarely ever affect two people the same.