Sex, Hormones, and Cannabis Potency

Have you ever heard that women get cranky and crave chocolate during a specific time of the month? Most people know that the menstrual cycle triggers certain behavior, but until recently science has failed to acknowledge that varying levels of hormones in females altered mood, behavior, and cognitive function (ie. memory, concentration, etc.). Because diseases such as Alzheimer’s, anxiety, depression, and arthritis occur more frequently in females, understanding female specific factors in therapeutics remains important. Estrogen is abundant in the brain and plays an important role in how the brain communicates. Though both men and women have estrogen, its levels only vary in pre-menopausal women as a function of the menstrual cycle (see graph below). Females might not be surprised to hear that they may crave chocolate during certain points in their menstrual cycle, but may not think something like cannabis potency could vary as a result of hormonal fluctuation. However, studies show that the potency of THC on pain relief in female rats increases during times of high estrogen levels. Estrogen appears to play a two-fold effect in cannabis messaging within the brain. First, it increases the conversion of THC to active THC. This means that after THC consumption, more active THC will be produced when estrogen levels are high such as during the pre-ovulatory peak; thus less cannabis may be needed to produce the same effects. Secondly, it changes the availability and excitability of receptors. Since the therapeutic effects of cannabis occur through activation of receptors, the variability…