Article written by
Tina MagrabiSenior Content Writer
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
Men and women generally use medical cannabis at equal rates, varying between states.
While some qualifying conditions are more likely to affect men, others are more likely to affect women.
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Osteoporosis and Osteopenia
Approximately 50% of women over age 50 will break a bone due to osteoporosis. Some research on animal models indicates that cannabis could decrease bone loss. Osteopenia is a related condition to osteoporosis, which occurs in older individuals and causes loss of bone mass and weakens bones.
Some promising lab reports suggest that cannabidiol (CBD) could help reverse bone loss by regulating noradrenaline production, overproduction of which can lead to bone loss. However, clinical trials on humans are necessary to understand if cannabis could help women with osteoporosis.
Endometriosis is when tissue similar to the womb’s lining (endometrium) starts to grow in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes. Surrounding tissue can become irritated, eventually developing scar tissue and adhesions – abnormal bands of fibrous tissue that can cause pelvic tissues and organs to stick to each other.
This can cause severe pain, especially during menstrual periods. Fertility problems also arise in half of those affected by endometriosis, as can memory problems. Ten percent of women worldwide (176 million) have endometriosis.
Cannabis may help treat endometriosis because:
- The plant is full of anti-inflammatory cannabinoids and terpenes that can help treat chronic pain.
- Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) may help act as a painkiller and help prevent endometrial growth.
- Women in Australia have reported that cannabis helps with their symptoms.
Other treatments, such as hormonal birth control, are often prescribed for women with endometriosis. Surgery may be necessary in extreme cases of endometriosis. Speak with your OB-GYN to see if cannabis could supplement your endometriosis treatment plan.
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Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)
Premenstrual symptom (PMS) is a common condition that affects many women in their menstrual years, while premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) is a more severe and less common syndrome. Symptoms of PMS include bloating, fatigue, irritability, cramps, back pain, headaches, and nausea, with intensifying symptoms and additional issues like panic attacks occurring with PMDD. The most common treatments prescribed for PMS include an iron-rich diet, exercise, ibuprofen, and, on occasion, antidepressants.
Cannabis can help replace the need for medications like ibuprofen and treat headaches and nausea. Cramps, depression, anxiety, and back pain may also be treated using cannabis and CBD, making cannabis potentially very useful for the treatment of PMS, especially as there are so few medications out there that treat such a wide range of symptoms simultaneously. This is one example of cannabis being a pharmacy in a plant.
There are several reasons why cannabis may help treat PMS, including:
- It may relieve breast pain and tenderness caused by an increase in progesterone production during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle.
- Some products may be particularly useful for PMS. Cannabinoid-laced tampons reduce and possibly treat cramps and lower back pain.
- May reduce migraine.
- Acne is a common feature of PMS, and cannabis may help treat it.
- Cannabinoids such as CBD may help act as mood stabilizers, while terpenes such as linalool and limonene may work as stress-busters.
- Helps treat insomnia.
- TRPV1 (aka vanilloid receptors, which are the human body’s thermometer) and calcium ion channels are associated with menstrual bleeding, and desensitizing these channels may help beat any pain associated with PMS.
If you suffer from severe PMS, including PMDD, please speak with your healthcare provider to see if cannabis is an appropriate treatment option.
There is evidence to support that cannabis may help treat depression. Postpartum depression, which can occur up to one year after giving birth, is not as well researched in the context of cannabis use. But some women may be able to benefit from cannabis for postpartum depression. Other women, especially breastfeeding women, may be best advised to refrain from cannabis use unless otherwise counseled by a physician.
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There are many autoimmune diseases, including type-1 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, and rheumatoid arthritis, and women are more likely to suffer from them than men. The difference is particularly prominent for lupus, where nine out of 10 cases are women, but the rate of autoimmune disease development is approximately three women to 1 man.
There are two main reasons women are more frequently diagnosed with autoimmune conditions than men: 1) testosterone, which reduces the number of B cells, a type of lymphocyte that releases harmful antibodies; and 2) women’s stronger immune systems, which, while beneficial for keeping some types of cancer and viruses like COVID-19 at bay, also has the unfortunate side-effect of increasing the chances of having an overactive immune system.
This is where cannabis comes in. It is well-known that cannabinoids can inhibit pro-inflammatory cytokine production (cytokines being a category of signaling molecules that mediate and regulate immunity & inflammation). Inflammation isn’t necessarily harmful, but it can be painful and damaging if it happens too much. Reducing cytokine production can therefore be of immense use.
Cannabinoids can also increase the presence of some types of anti-inflammatory cytokines named interleukins, meaning that more anti-inflammatory proteins are released into the body. CBD and THC are potent anti-inflammatories and immunomodulators (compounds that can help regulate or normalize the immune system).
Those who have an overactive immune system tend to get severe inflammation issues:
- With Crohn’s Disease, inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract leads to abdominal pain, severe diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, and malnutrition.
- With autoimmune-related multiple sclerosis (MS) it’s an inflamed central nervous system (CNS).
- In type-1 diabetes, it’s pancreatic inflammation, which can damage the cells that produce insulin.
- In Rheumatoid arthritis, it’s the inflammation of bones and joints, causing swelling. As for lupus, it’s a widespread inflammatory disease that affects the whole body.
Regardless of the type of autoimmune disorder, cannabis and cannabinoids may be helpful as they can dampen an overactive immune system and reduce inflammation.
There are several kinds of cancer that predominantly or exclusively affect women. Among them are breast, cervical, and ovarian cancer. Breast cancer is the leading type of gynecological cancer in women, accounting for 25% of all cases, with a survival rate of around 80-90% for most kinds of breast cancer. However, breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women due to its prevalence.
Ovarian cancer is the seventh most common cancer and the eighth-most common cause of death from cancer among women and has a 5-year survival rate of 49%. Cervical cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer and the fourth most common cause of death from cancer in women. It is a particularly aggressive cancer where five-year survival rates are around 68% in the U.S. but can be as low as 50% in poorer countries.
The efficacy of cannabis for treating cancer depends very much on the type of cancer. Not all types of cancer are cannabinoid-responsive, and cancers that are cannabinoid-responsive have endocannabinoid receptors of their own. When combined with chemotherapy, phytocannabinoids (plant-derived cannabinoids) may be an effective adjunctive treatment for some forms of cancer. Cannabinoids like THC and CBD have displayed some antitumoral activity in lab studies, as have terpenes and flavonoids.
There are instances where cannabinoid treatment isn’t the best option for those being treated for cancer. For example, those undergoing immunotherapy should not use cannabis, as the immunomodulatory effects of cannabinoids may interfere with the treatment. It could also be essential to match the cannabinoid treatment to the type of cancer being treated (i.e., the THC:CBD ratios, as well as other minor cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids being ingested by the patient), but more studies are needed to give a greater degree of accuracy regarding dosing.
Does Cannabis Affect Women Differently Than Men?
Yes, cannabis does affect women differently than men. Here are some primary ways that women’s response to cannabis tends to differ from men’s:
- Women are more sensitive to the effects of THC due to differences in muscle mass and fat tissue distribution between males and females – women have more fat tissue and so retain THC in their system for longer.
- Due to this sensitivity to THC, women may get greater analgesic (painkiller) effects from cannabis and will likely need to use less THC to treat anxiety and depression.
- Women may be more likely to use cannabis as a substitute for prescription drugs concerning the above point.
- Cannabis use may increase women’s sex drive, and interestingly, it’s the opposite for men.
- Women’s endocannabinoid receptors are more sensitive to cannabis compared to men’s. This means that the interactions between the endocannabinoid system and the brain level of dopamine – the neurotransmitter of “pleasure” and “reward” – are sex-dependent, with cannabis use releasing more dopamine in women.
- Female eggs exposed to THC have an impaired ability to produce viable embryos, possibly reducing fertility. However, this is an animal study, so the findings do not necessarily translate to humans.
It is important to remember that these are generalities, and cannabis can affect one individual very differently from another, regardless of their gender. Everyone has a unique endocannabinoid system (ECS), and more research is needed into how hormonal differences between people influence and interact with it. Other factors, like ingestion method, activity levels, age, and body-mass index (BMI), may also impact how the body metabolizes cannabis and its compounds.
Overall, cannabis represents a great potential alternative to harsher therapies and medications. Cannabis is generally well-tolerated by the human body, and safe and careful use of whole plant medications could help treat many health problems.
Experience the possible benefits of medical cannabis for a variety of qualifying conditions. Contact the virtual clinic at Leafwell today, and our healthcare providers will start you on your application for a medical marijuana card.
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