As cannabis becomes an increasingly available and legal option for pain relief, researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) wanted to see if they could find any significant gender differences in the drug’s pain-relieving effects. Their findings show that although both men and women report similar levels of enjoyment and intoxication, men tend to experience more significant pain relief after smoking cannabis than women.
“These findings come at a time when more people, including women, are turning to the use of medical cannabis for pain relief,” said Ziva Cooper, Ph.D., associate professor of clinical neurobiology (in psychiatry) at CUMC.
“Preclinical evidence has suggested that the experience of pain relief from cannabis-related products may vary between sexes, but no studies have been done to see if this is true in humans.”
For the study, the researchers looked at data from two double-blinded, placebo-controlled studies examining the analgesic, or pain-relieving, effects of cannabis in 42 participants who smoked the drug recreationally.
After smoking the same amount of either an active or placebo form of cannabis, the participants immersed one hand in a a cold-water bath until they couldn’t stand the pain any longer. Following the immersion, the participants answered a short pain questionnaire.
Men who had smoked the active cannabis reported a significant decrease in pain sensitivity and an increase in pain tolerance. Women who smoked the active cannabis did not experience a significant decrease in pain sensitivity, although they did report a small increase in pain tolerance shortly after smoking.
But regardless of the differences in pain relief, men and women did not report differences in how intoxicated they felt or how much they liked the effects of the active cannabis.
The researchers say that more studies in both men and women are needed to better understand the factors that may influence the analgesic effects of cannabinoids — the active chemicals in cannabis products — such as the drug’s strength, mode of delivery (smoked versus oral), frequency of use, and type of pain measured.
“This study underscores the importance of including both men and women in clinical trials aimed at understanding the potential therapeutic and negative effects of cannabis, particularly as more people use cannabinoid products for recreational or medical purposes,” said Cooper.
Results of the study were recently published online in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.