THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the chemical in marijuana responsible for its psychological effects. While every individual experiences THC differently as a general rule, new research suggests gender may also play a role in marijuana sensitivity.
According to researchers conducting the first gender-specific THC study, smoking marijuana is considered riskier for women, and it all has to do with how the chemical interacts with estrogen.
Previous studies have shown women are more prone to marijuana addiction and dependence, and experience more severe withdrawal symptoms. What’s more, women build up a tolerance to THC significantly faster than men; in the study, researchers found female rats given a 30 percent lower THC dose than male rats immediately started building a tolerance to it.
Professor Rebecca Craft of Washington State University, lead author of the study, indicates the amount of THC her team used in female tests was “the lowest dose anyone has ever used to induce tolerance.”
“What we’re finding with THC is that you get a very clear spike in drug sensitivity right when the females are ovulating,” said Craft to MNT, “right when their estrogen levels have peaked and are coming down.” Because the females develop tolerance to THC more quickly, they have increased vulnerability to negative side effects such as anxiety, paranoia and addiction.”
THC is just one of some 60 chemical cannabinoids found in marijuana, but it is the one primarily responsible for the plant’s psychological effects when used in the body. According to Live Science, cannabinoids in marijuana affected the regions of the brain responsible for thinking, memory, pleasure, coordination and time perception, and THC specifically affects the hippocampus, generating hallucinations and delusions.
Researchers indicate the differences between male and female reactions to THC have been noted before but never studied; it is the main reason why most THC studies include only male test subjects. Taking into account fluctuating female hormones can be a daunting task and may skew test results despite best efforts. There is a growing need, however, for more THC research to include females, and the National Institutes of Health have issued a request that research teams include equal females in THC studies–or provide adequate reasons as to why they were not included.
As cultivation techniques improve, THC in marijuana is becoming more potent, therefore, knowing the effects among the population is a necessity.
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“Marijuana [today] is very different from 40 years ago. It’s much higher in THC and lower in cannabidiol, so a little bit goes a very long way,” said Craft. “We’re more likely to see negative side effects today like anxiety, confusion, panic attacks, hallucinations or extreme paranoia. And women are at higher risk.”
Despite the fact women show more sensitivity to THC and higher tolerance building, they were not as affected by the appetite stimulating effects as were men. The reason behind this is unknown.