Sex differences in cannabinoid pharmacology: A reflection of differences in the endocannabinoid system?
Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in the U.S., and marijuana use by women is on the rise. Women have been found to be more susceptible to the development of cannabinoid abuse and dependence, have more severe withdrawal symptoms, and are more likely to relapse than men. The majority of research in humans suggests that women are more likely to be affected by cannabinoids than men, with reports of enhanced and decreased performance on various tasks. In rodents, females are more sensitive than males to effects of cannabinoids on tests of antinociception, motor activity, and reinforcing efficacy. Studies on effects of cannabinoid exposure during adolescence in both humans and rodents suggest that female adolescents are more likely than male adolescents to be deleteriously affected by cannabinoids. Sex differences in response to cannabinoids appear to be due to activational and perhaps organizational effects of gonadal hormones, with estradiol identified as the hormone that contributes most to the sexually dimorphic effects of cannabinoids in adults. Many, but not all sexually dimorphic effects of exogenous cannabinoids can be attributed to a sexually dimorphic endocannabinoid system in rodents, although the same has not yet been established firmly for humans. A greater understanding of the mechanisms underlying sexually dimorphic effects of cannabinoids will facilitate development of sex-specific approaches to treat marijuana dependence and to use cannabinoid-based medications therapeutically.