Are Women At Higher Risk For Pot Addiction?

By Maggie Ethridge 10/31/18

A new study explored the gender-based differences in the way cannabis affects the body.

woman smoking a joint

Women’s hormones put them more at risk than men of becoming addicted to cannabis, a study found.

Specifically, the sex hormone oestrogen makes them enjoy the particular high of smoking pot, according to the research.

Men are also at risk from a hormone—in their case, testosterone—which makes them more likely to try cannabis and then use higher doses more frequently.

The research, which focused on studies of animal behavior, revealed that while women are less likely to try pot in the first place, they are at higher risk of developing a dependence on the drug.

Hormones are powerful levers in most of human behavior, and this includes drug use. Due to how the sex hormone oestrogen responds to marijuana, the body’s pleasure center is more powerfully affected in women than men.

Research published in the South Burnett Times found that the differences in the impact on the endocannabinoid system in men and women were centered around testosterone, oestradiol (oestrogen) and progesterone. 

The endocannabinoid system, or ECS, is a complex network of cannabinoid receptors expressed in cells of both the central and peripheral nervous systems. ECS helps to bring about homeostasis in all the major body systems to ensure that the body as a whole works in harmony and health.

Study co-author Dr. Liana Fattore, of the National Research Council of Italy, told South Burnett Times, "Male sex steroids increase risk-taking behavior and suppress the brain's reward system, which could explain why males are more likely to try drugs, including cannabis."

She continued to say, "Females seem to be more vulnerable, at a neurochemical level, in developing addiction to cannabis."

As the push to legalize marijuana continues having success all over the world, with two-thirds of Americans supporting the legalization of cannabis, it is increasingly important to conduct science-based research on the effects of marijuana.

Understanding gender-based differences in how cannabis affects the body and the potential for addiction is going to become increasingly important as more Americans use the drug for both recreational and medicinal purposes.

Gender-based drug addiction information and treatment could be a next step, as well as a crucial piece of the puzzle for those struggling with addiction who use marijuana as a tool to wean off harder drugs.

Professor Fattore told the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, "Identifying factors is critical for optimizing evidence-based prevention and treatment protocols."

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Maggie May Ethridge is the author of Atmospheric Disturbances: Scenes From a Marriage (Shebooks, 2014) and the recently completed novel, Agitate My Heart. She is a freelance writer published in Rolling Stone, VOX, Washington Post, The Guardian and many others. Find her at her blog Flux Capacitor or on LinkedIn or Twitter.