Cannabis Treats Men Differently Than Women And That’s Mostly Due to Hormones
It’s a complicated relationship, it seems, as men who use low to moderate amounts of cannabis report incredible sex, and those who would be classified as “chronic consumers” report low libido and erectile dysfunction.
Many things can determine how cannabis affects you. The strain, dosage, method of consumption, and health of the plant itself all play important roles in determining how the body and mind respond to cannabis. Bu,t recent research has also shed light on a new dimension that may be even more essential to the way cannabis interacts with the body: gender.
To be clear, this is not a nature vs. nurture argument, despite the fact that men tend to use more cannabis, use it more frequently, and consume it faster compared to women. It is the difference in hormone levels and body composition between men and women that creates substantial difference in the way their bodies process, and hence are effected by cannabis.
For example, we know that THC has certain effects on the body’s sex hormone-laden endocrine system, which controls mood, growth, development, and sexual function, among other things. It’s clear that men and women have different kinds of growth, development, and sexual function, so it’s not surprising that when THC touches this system, the effects manifest in different ways.
And, as you might expect when dealing with a system that controls testosterone and estrogen, the biggest differences in how cannabis affects men and women have to do with sex. Study after study confirm that cannabis leads to greater sexual appetite and orgasms for women. Women who use a moderate amount of cannabis report greater pleasure from sex, better orgasms, and overall more satisfaction.
However, a lot of the research has somewhat contradictory findings when it comes to men.
For example, a study in Nature found that, among men, cannabis use intensified sexual arousal, increased sexual thoughts, and prolonged sexual performance. Later studies bore out these claims. In a survey that include more than 800 men between the 18 and 30, researchers found that 83 percent of respondents affirmed that cannabis revved up their sexual pleasure. Shoring up the findings, a second survey of male cannabis users, from a different group of researchers, found that 75 percent said cannabis increased their sexual pleasure and satisfaction, 68 percent said it upped the quality of their orgasm, and 39 percent reported that it increased the duration of the sexual communions.
But it’s not all good news. Despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of surveyed cannabis users reporting positive results, doctors found that chronic cannabis users tended to report less desirable side effects, including erectile dysfunction and lack of interest in sex.
A 1982 study found that chronic cannabis users were twice as likely as the general population to report erectile problems, although that number was very low, just 9 percent. And some men were able to reverse the effects by abstaining from cannabis use for a few days.
While there’s no clear scientific consensus on how cannabis can affect male sex drives, there are competing theories. A possible reason may be the relationship between THC and the estrogen, the female sex hormone. Researchers at Columbia have found that estrogen magnifies the effects of THC, leading women to get more pain relief from cannabis at lower doses, but also build tolerance to the drug much more quickly.
Another possibility is that the depressant properties of cannabis act much the same way that other depressants like alcohol do, making men less able to perform.
But the possibility with the most rabid scientific following is that cannabis effects in men are more dose-dependent than in women. The idea is that small and medium amounts of cannabis affect men positively, but large doses carry negatives effects. When the Columbia researchers found that women were more affected by cannabis than men, they also discovered that THC sticks in the female system longer than in males. Because men flush THC out more quickly than women, they choose to replace it more often, leading to taking higher doses than women, and thus suffering from effects of higher doses of a depressant.
Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising.
As far back as 1894, the Indian Hemp Drugs Commission was warning people about the danger cannabis posed to sexual health. While the report ultimately concluded that cannabis is harmless in small and moderate doses, the loose collection of 19th century doctors, yogis, police, and clergymen found that it could cause a lapse in libido.
But while the effects of cannabis may be mediated by hormones, the plant does not cause any change in the level of hormones found in the body. A study in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that even chronic cannabis users saw no change in the amount of testosterone and estrogen in users’ bodies.