Pain response — sensitivity and tolerance — after use of active cannabis differs between men and women, a study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence has shown.1

Variation in cannabinoid-mediated antinociceptive effects according to sex has been demonstrated in preclinical studies; however, whether this effect extends to humans is not known. Therefore, this retrospective analysis sought to compare the analgesic, subjective, and physiologic effects of active cannabis (3.56% to 5.60% THC) and inactive cannabis (0.00% THC) in men and women cannabis smokers.

The researchers enrolled 21 male and 21 female participants in the double-blinded, placebo-controlled study. The Cold-Pressor Test (CPT) was used to measure pain response.

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All participants smoked the same amount of active or inactive cannabis. They then immersed one hand in cold water (4°C). Researchers recorded time until the participant reported pain (sensitivity) and time until the participant withdrew his or her hand (tolerance).

Pain sensitivity was significantly reduced in men after active cannabis use compared with inactive cannabis (P <.01); however, no reduction in pain sensitivity was seen in women after active cannabis use compared with inactive cannabis use.

Pain tolerance was increased in both men and women immediately after cannabis use (P <.001), with men reporting a greater increase in pain tolerance than the women (P <.10).

In addition, subjective drug ratings associated with abuse liability (would take again, liked it, good drug effect), drug strength, and “high” were increased in those who used active cannabis among both men and women participants.

These findings demonstrate that men experience a greater analgesic effect from cannabis than women. Pain tolerance is increased for both sexes, but is greater in men. The researchers note that sex-dependent differences in the potential therapeutic effects of cannabinoids for pain relief warrant further investigation.


1. Cooper ZD, Haney M. Sex-dependent effects of cannabis-induced analgesia. Dug Alcohol Depend. 2016 Aug 5. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2016.08.001. [Epub ahead of print]