Does CBD work better for men than women?
This question gets asked quite a lot on the web today so let us address it. When it comes to the effects of cannabinoids in the human body men and women may experience pain relief differently. Want to know the difference? Although results do vary, a recent study has shown some interesting results. Men may experience greater pain relief from cannabinoids than women, according to a new study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence1. While a few studies on sex differences and cannabinoids are out there, does this translate to hemp, and can women still benefit from hemp extracts?
Studies in other mammals’ gender-related sensitivity to cannabinoids contradict findings in humans
These findings are much different from animal studies showing that female rats are more sensitive to the pain-relieving effects of cannabinoids. Although it was a small study with only 21 men and 21 women, the results were seen as “significant.” The significance was because the results are likely to be relevant to the general population and caused by gender differences.
Notably they tested with psychoactive cannabis (containing THC), not hemp (containing CBD and other cannabinoids). For this study, half of the volunteers smoked low-potency cannabis, containing 3.56-5.6% THC, or a placebo. At consistent intervals they dipped their hands in very cold water. They then rated their pain, and the researchers also noted how long it took for each of them to take their hands out of the water.
Only men had any significant self-rated pain relief from the smoked cannabis, while there was no difference between the two groups of women. However, both men and women experienced increased pain tolerance, measured by the amount of time it took for them to pull their hands out of the water.
The authors speculate that this may have been to do with cannabis tolerance, as animal studies show that females develop tolerance faster. All of the volunteers were heavy, daily smokers, used to higher THC levels of around 15-25%. If women develop tolerance much easier than men, those accustomed to 15-25% THC may see hardly any effect from levels three to five times lower.
Hormone levels may affect sensitivity to cannabinoids
One theory is that hormone levels affect sensitivity to cannabinoids. Animal studies have suggested that when levels of oestradiol (a type of oestrogen) is high, women, or at least female rats, are more sensitive to the pain-relieving and other effects of cannabinoids. When progesterone levels are high, female animals were found to be less sensitive. To measure the effects of a typical woman’s hormone profile on sensitivity to cannabinoids, it would be necessary to know where she is in her menstrual cycle. Typically, oestrogen dominates until day 14-15 of the menstrual cycle, just after ovulation2. Progesterone then becomes the dominant hormone until menstruation, when levels of both hormones are low.
A limitation of this study was that the researchers tested one specific type of pain, specifically pain caused by immersion of the hands into cold water1. Therefore, the results may not be applicable to the types of pain hemp is used for, such as inflammatory pain. Cannabidiol (CBD), the main cannabinoid in hemp, has been shown to reduce the effects of the body’s inflammatory chemicals such as tumour necrosis factor-alpha3. Other cannabinoids, such as CBC and CBG, are anti-inflammatory in their own ways, such as CBG’s ability to block lipoxygenase. Overall, if you are a woman thinking of using hemp for pain relief, it is best to research the potential benefits thoroughly and not be put off by headlines about one study on cannabis.
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2: Tortora & Derrickson, Principles of Anatomy & Physiology, 2012.