YORK, England, Friday July 31, 2015 – A new British study has revealed that smoking marijuana is more dangerous for men than women, with men four times as likely to experience cannabis psychosis.
Previous research has examined the relationship between marijuana and psychosis, but the role of gender in relation to the drug’s mental health effects is less well understood.
Psychosis is a mental health disorder that causes people to perceive things differently from those around them, whether it manifests as a loss of contact with reality in the form of delusions or hallucinations, and/or difficulty performing simple tasks.
But it remains unclear why the male brain appears to be more susceptible to cannabis induced psychosis.
In pursuit of answers, Ian Hamilton of Britain’s University of York drew on past literature and National Health Service (NHS) admission records to compile the study.
“Male cannabis users outnumber female users by 2:1,” Hamilton observed. “However, this ratio increases significantly for those admitted to hospital with a diagnosis of cannabis psychosis, with males outnumbering females by 4:1.”
There is nevertheless no definitive scientific data to explain these statistics.
While Hamilton’s study, published in the Journal of Advances in Dual Diagnosis, may support previous research suggesting that oestrogen forms a defensive barrier against the effects of cannabis, there is as much evidence that this predominantly female hormone actually accentuates the drug’s effects.
“The marked gender differences in rates of cannabis psychosis is puzzling,” Hamilton said.
“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.
“When it comes to cannabis psychosis gender does matter,” he added.
Hamilton concedes that the NHS admission records, which were his primary source of data, may have been corrupted by social factors. He proposes that fewer women resort to admitting themselves to hospital for drug related problems than men, even if their psychosis is severe.
With twice as many men frequently using cannabis as women, the chances of more male admissions to hospital are doubled from the outset, moreover.
“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,” Hamilton said.
The University of York researchers said their focus on gender differences is important to help improve understanding and the provision of gender sensitive services.