How Marijuana Affects Men and Women Differently

February 9th 2016

Kyle Jaeger

I've talked to a bunch of couples who use cannabis on a regular basis and one of the things I often hear is that women need to smoke more to feel the same effects as men. As it turns out, there are actually studies that speak to that experience. Simply put, marijuana affects men and women differently.

We're talking about tolerance here. While women tend to be more sensitive to the psychoactive components of marijuana when they start smoking, they develop higher tolerances to the substance over time. The reason for that difference has to do with the female hormonal system, researchers at Washington State University found.

Why women build higher tolerances to THC.

A 2014 study looked at how THC, the main psychoactive ingredient of marijuana, affected male and female lab rats. Apparently estrogen, the female sex hormone, makes women at least 30 percent more sensitive to the pain-relieving qualities of THC — but that sensitivity doesn't last. Once the female rats adapted to THC, requiring higher concentrations to experience the same effects, it became clear that hormonal differences influenced the rats' responses to cannabis.

"What we’re finding with THC is that you get a very clear spike in drug sensitivity right when the females are ovulating — right when their estrogen levels have peaked and are coming down," Professor Rebecca Craft, the lead author of the study, said in a press release.

Other gender differences in marijuana use

Tolerance to THC is just one of the main differences between male and female marijuana users. There are at least 85 cannabinoids — components of marijuana — to account for, and it appears that there's a relationship between gender and the effects each of these components are associated with.

For example, men tend to experience appetite stimulation (i.e. the munchies) more acutely than women. And women tend to have worse visuospatial memory impairment than men, meaning that the forgetfulness sometimes associated with marijuana use is more common among women.

There's also a difference in how men and women respond to cannabis in terms of libido. While the substance has been shown to increase sexual appetite in both genders, the fact that estrogen makes women more sensitive to THC initially also appears to translate into greater sensitivity to the substance as a sexual stimulant. There's a caveat, however. In smaller doses, cannabis appears to increase libido; in larger doses, it can have the opposite effect.

RELATED: What Does Marijuana Do To Your Sex Drive?