Marijuana use is riding high on a decade-long wave of legalization and unregulated synthetic substitutes. As society inspects the impact, a stimulating inequality has become apparent: the risks are dissimilar in females than in males.

A new evaluation of animal studies says that sex variances in response to marijuana are not just socio-cultural, but biological too.

Animal studies

It has been pretty difficult to get laboratory animals to self-administer cannabinoids like human marijuana users. However, animal studies on the effects of sex hormones and anabolic steroids on cannabinoid self-administration conduct have backed a lot to our present understanding of sex differences in response to marijuana.

Men are up to 4 times more probable to try marijuana — and use higher doses, more often.

Male sex steroids upsurge risk-taking behavior and lower the brain’s reward system, which could explain why males are more likely to try drugs, including marijuana. This is true for both testosterone and nandrolone.

But despite inferior average cannabis use, women go from first hit to habit faster than men. In fact, men and women differ not only in the occurrence and regularity of marijuana use, but also in the susceptibility to develop marijuana use disorder. Females seem to be more susceptible, at a neurochemical level, in developing addiction to marijuana.

Studies in rats show that the female hormone estradiol affects control of movement, social behavior and filtering of sensory input to the brain. As a result, the connections between the endocannabinoid system and the brain level of dopamine — the neurotransmitter of “pleasure” and “reward” — are sex-dependent.

Human impact

The inconsistency of conditions in these studies greatly confuses interpretation of an already complex role of sex hormones in the endocannabinoid system and cannabinoid sensitivity.

Extending our understanding of the connections between cannabinoids and sex steroids is crucial in measuring the impact of increasing marijuana use, and tackling the fallout.