December 5, 2023

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CBD Mental Health Research Has a Gender Gap – Here’s Why That Matters

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With a year like 2020, it’s little wonder that people are turning to cannabidiol (CBD), known for its calming effects, at higher rates to help with their anxiety surrounding Covid-19. Thirty-nine percent of CBD users recently reported that they were using CBD products more as a result of the pandemic, according to a survey from the Brightfield Group. When the consumer marketing agency, which focuses on the Cannabis and CBD industries, polled 5,000 people last June, it found that 42 percent listed anxiety as their primary reason for using CBD, despite a lack of CBD mental health research.

Given that CBD, a compound commonly extracted from cannabis or hemp plants, is able to provide a mild body high—without the mind-altering effects of THC (the psychoactive compound in cannabis)—it makes sense that people may be reaching for it as a means of easing anxious feelings. And while researchers we’ve spoken to note that there are no known negative side-effects to using CBD for this purpose, they still don’t know a whole lot about how CBD oil works for anxiety. “There is very little data from rigorous scientific research on the therapeutic effects of CBD,” J. H. Atkinson, MD, of the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California, San Diego, previously told Well+Good.

What they do know is that, while early research shows that CBD could be beneficial for treating anxiety, almost all of the existing studies on CBD and mental health were conducted using only male subjects. This was one of the findings of a new research synthesis on the use of CBD for treating anxiety published in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research.

This is a problem for many reasons, starting with the fact that women have historically been left out of clinical research, and equal representation in studies is still lacking, even now. Another reason it’s an issue is because mental health conditions, including anxiety, can present differently in women due to distinctions in brain chemistry and hormones, among other societal and cultural dissimilarities.

So, to get a better understanding of what’s going on with CBD research for mental health and how gender plays a role. I talked to an author of the research synthesis, Patricia Di Ciano, PhD, an assistant professor of Pharmacology and Toxicilogy at the Univeristy of Toronto, as well as Ziva Cooper, PhD, director of the UCLA Cannabis Research Initiative and associate professor at the Jane & Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior.

Science is already showing some key differences in how cannabis—which has been studied significantly more than CBD—may affect men and women due in part to sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen. “Part of the reason why this is really intriguing is because, at least with THC, that primary intoxicating component of cannabis, there’s been quite a bit of data in laboratory animals showing that there are differences between males and females. And those differences are important with respect to translating how that might affect humans,” says Dr. Cooper.

For example, brain studies in rats have revealed that females are more likely to become addicted to cannabis than males, and that female sex hormones also make them more sensitive to cannabis. While findings from a review of animal studies, which was published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, noted that subjects responses varied based on strains. Both Drs. Cooper and Di Ciano say this only further supports the assertion that CBD-specific research in male and female subjects is necessary.

“I do think we’re at a point now where there’s a lot more attention given to this need, so I think that looking at the sex differences with cannabodial is really right around the corner,” says Dr. Cooper. “You have to also just keep in mind that even though cannabidiol is everywhere right now—and one in seven, U.S. adults are using it—research is still in its infancy. So it’s not surprising that there hasn’t been much of a look into how males and females differ. But as research continues to grow in this area, I think that certainly looking at differences between men and women is going to be an obvious next step.”

For now, both Drs. Cooper and Di Ciano say you should consult with your primary care physician before starting any new treatment protocol to address anxiety, including using CBD. “Also because cannabidiol can interact with medications that people are already taking differently, that’s another reason why it’s important to have a conversation with their physician,” says Dr. Cooper.

[Originally reported by MSN.]

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