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Sex differences in the acute effects of smoked cannabis: evidence from a human laboratory study of young adults

Cannabis is one of the most commonly used psychoactive drug with animal studies showing females are more sensitive to effects than males. Human studies have shown mixed results including women being more sensitive to smoked cannabis and oral THC with other studies showing no sex differences. The current study hopes to characterize sex differences in pharmacokinetic effects of THS along with characterizing acute subjective, physiological, and cognitive effects of smoked cannabis.

Participants included 91 healthy cannabis smokers aged 19 to 25 years of age. To qualify, participants had to have smoked cannabis 1-4 days per week and test positive for THC during a urine test. To collect data, participants came in for four outpatient visits that included a practice session, an acute drug effect session, and sessions at 24 and 48 hours after smoking cannabis. They also completed questionnaires on demographics, substance use, driving behaviors and attitudes, and an intelligent quotient test. During the visits, subject effect scales were used to assess subject feelings of cannabis effects. Cognitive measures, vital signs, and pharmacokinetic measures were also analyzed.

Results showed that while females and males smoked for a similar duration, females smoked less of the cannabis cigarette and therefore had lower concentration of THC.  When the THC in the blood was normalized, adjusted THC concentrations in the blood were still lower in the female participants. The researchers found little sex differences in ratings of subjective drug effects, mood, heart rate, blood pressure, or cognitive effects of cannabis. Females may experience the same acute effects at a lower dose of cannabis. More research should focus on the sex differences in pharmacology of THC when administered through different routes. The current research is important when educating young adults about the effects at different doses males and females may experience when smoking cannabis.

Take Away: The current study characterizes sex differences in effects of THS while characterizing acute subjective, physiological, and cognitive effects of smoked cannabis. The study included 91 healthy cannabis smokers aged 19-25 years. The participants came in for four outpatient visits and completed questionnaires as well. Results showed that females smoked less of the cannabis cigarette and when THC in the blood was normalized, adjusted THC concentration were still lower in female participants. There was little found sex differences in all other categories. Females may experience the same acute effects, but at a lower dose of cannabis. The current research is important when educating about the effects at different doses males and females may experience when smoking cannabis.

Matheson, J., Sproule, B., Ciano, P. D., Fares, A., Foll, B. L., Mann, R. E., & Brands, B. (2019). Sex differences in the acute effects of smoked cannabis: evidence from a human laboratory study of young adults. Psychopharmacology, 237(2), 305–316. doi: 10.1007/s00213-019-05369-y

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