Are Men More Susceptible to Marijuana’s Mental Health Effects?

You may be surprised to learn that men are more susceptible to the mind-altering effects of marijuana than women. Specifically, men have a four times higher likelihood of experiencing cannabis psychosis than women.

Cannabis psychosis

The dictionary defines psychosis as “a mental disorder characterized by symptoms, such as delusions or hallucinations, that indicate impaired contact with reality.” It usually causes people to have a distorted perception of their surroundings compared to others. From losing contact with reality, they have difficulty even completing simple tasks. 

Researchers from the University of York in England performed a study based on past literature and National Health Service (NHS) admission records. The data covered a period of 11 years extending from initial cannabis exposure through to experiencing cannabis psychosis.

Lead author Ian Hamilton explained, “Male cannabis users outnumber female users by 2:1. However, this ratio increases significantly for those admitted to hospital with a diagnosis of cannabis psychosis, with males outnumbering females by 4:1.” 

“The marked gender difference in rates of cannabis psychosis is puzzling. It is possible that mental health and specialist drug treatment services, which have a disproportionate number of men, are identifying and treating more males with combined mental health and cannabis problems. However, it is also possible that women with cannabis psychosis are not being identified and offered treatment for the problems they develop,” said Hamilton.

Supportive scientific data is lacking

Currently, there is no “definitive scientific data” to support the statistics. The research by Hamilton suggests estrogen may form a barrier of protection against cannabis effects. However, there is also evidence to the contrary, indicating estrogen may enhance the effects of cannabis.

A close up view of a marijuana plant in mid bloomHamilton, himself, even admits the primary source of the study data could have been skewed because fewer women may have admitted themselves for episodes of psychosis. Not to mention, the number of men experiencing cannabis psychosis would likely be higher considering they represent double the amount of women users.

As Hamilton said, “This research follows a tradition of asking one question only to find by the end you have created many more. All we can say for certain is that when cannabis and psychosis collide, gender does matter.”

Science behind cannabis psychosis

A separate study by King’s College London, England, has shown that marijuana has two ingredients that affect the brain in opposite ways. One of the chemicals, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is known to enhance the brain activity that can lead to psychosis. The other compound is cannabidiol, which is believed to inhibit those symptoms. 

The research team, led by Dr. Sagnik Bhattacharyya, a psychopharmacologist at King’s College, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans to observe how THC disrupted the ability of the brain to interpret which stimuli were important from those that were not. 

The findings revealed that THC “significantly increased the severity of psychotic symptoms compared with placebos,” according to researchers. 

It is always surprising when gender plays an unexpected role in how people are affected by things. Science never ceases to present us with puzzling differences that require further exploration and understanding.


—The Alternative Daily 



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