How Weed Affects Men and Women Differently

By Kyle Jaeger

The medical benefits of cannabis have been repeatedly established in study after study after study. But one key benefit might be especially pertinent to female users: ingredients in weed relieve pain—and research shows that women experience pain more intensely than men.

But while cannabis treats pain in men and women, a 2014 study from Washing State University (WSU) revealed another interesting finding about how the plant affects different genders. It turns out that, while women are more sensitive to marijuana when they first consume it, they build a higher tolerance to its main psychoactive ingredient, THC, compared to men. That tolerance builds within days, according to the study.

Full disclosure: This study was conducted on rats. There’s not a whole lot of research exploring how cannabis impacts men versus women, but research on rat subjects can provide useful insights on what drugs do to humans, too, so here we are.

“After 10 days of treatment, tolerance to THC was shown to be significantly greater in females than males,” according to a WSU press release. “Tolerance occurs when the rat ‘adapts’ to THC so that larger doses are required to produce the same pain-relieving effects initially seen with the first dose.”

How Can I Use This Information?

If you live in one of the 30 states where marijuana is legal for medical or recreational purposes, you might have consumed, or have felt tempted by the prospect of consuming, cannabis. A lot of marijuana patients find the plant so effective that they opt to use it in lieu of traditional pharmaceuticals such as opioid painkillers.

So let’s say you’re experiencing pain—acute, chronic, neuropathic—and want to see if cannabis is right for you. Well if you’re a woman, this study suggests that you should at the very least be aware of how hormones in your body will impact your experience.

  1. Start slow and go low. Don’t overdo it your first time. Don’t reach for the 100mg THC edible just yet. Consult dispensary workers about low-THC strains or products and read the instructions before you dive in. You don’t need a huge amount of weed to experience pain relief, so err on the side of caution and feel into it at your own pace.
  2. But yeah… that low-THC stuff might not deliver the same level of pain relief if you become a regular user. Remember, it only took an average of 10 days for the female rat subjects to build higher tolerances to THC than their male counterparts.

  3. As you build a tolerance, listen to your body and adjust your dose accordingly—ideally with some expert medical input. In time, you’ll find the right dose for you, but that depends on a bunch of factors like your pain levels, body type, and hormones.

Closing Thoughts

Nobody wants to be in pain. But there are a lot of options out there to help you manage your pain—including cannabis. It’s no secret that there are downsides to opioid-based painkillers—the risk of addiction and overdose, for example—which are most commonly prescribed for severe pain. Maybe marijuana isn’t the pain-relieving option for you, but we do know that it’s not physically addictive and nobody has ever died from a weed overdose, and so if pain is a problem in your life, and you live in a legal state, there’s peer-reviewed research out there that proves it may help.