Dr. Sarah Lichenstein is leading a study on how CBD may affect behavior and the brain to determine how it affects women and if it affects women and men What is Equilibria? We grow premium organic CBD with 1-on-1 dosage support for a personalized daily routine that fits your life. Learn more about Equilibria Women today! These days, CBD—cannabidiol, a chemical derived from cannabis—is being sold in many forms and used for many things. Find out what women are using it for.
How Does CBD Affect Women? WHRY Fills Gaps in the Science of an Exploding Market
WHRY is launching a study on how CBD may affect behavior and the brain to determine how it affects women and if it affects women and men differently.
Google the three-letter acronym “CBD,” and you will receive 177 million results. For comparison, a search for “FBI” produces 213 million hits, “IBM,” 305 million, and “FDR,” just 51.3 million. Do you know what CBD is? More important, do you know what it does?
CBD is short for cannabidiol, a seemingly non-intoxicating compound of the cannabis plant, as opposed to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the major psychoactive component responsible for the drug’s euphoric effect.
CBD is the main active ingredient in a growing category of products sold in all 50 states with little regulation. The substance can be found in nasal sprays, food supplement powders, skin patches, suppositories, capsules, chocolates, coffee, beer, gummies, lollipops, macaroni and cheese, hummus, honey, jelly beans, cereal, gum, popcorn, peanut butter, massage oil, lotions, face masks, deodorant, pet treats, and bath bombs.
In 2019, more than 64 million Americans reported trying CBD, the majority of whom are female.
Manufacturers of these products have claimed they can help alleviate anxiety and pain, promote sleep, and treat depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and more. But there is little research to support these claims or the safety of regularly using such products over time. Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has only approved the use of CBD to treat two rare, severe forms of epilepsy.
Now, with a grant from Women’s Health Research at Yale, Dr. Sarah Lichenstein is leading a study on how CBD may affect behavior and the brain to determine how it affects women and if it affects women and men differently.
“The majority of research on the neurological effects of CBD in healthy adults derives from a single small study conducted entirely on men,” said Lichenstein, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine. “If we are to make sure these products are safe and effective — and, if so, determine correct dosing — it is important to complement what has been done in men to understand how CBD affects the brain in women.”
In collaboration with Drs. Sarah Yip and Ayana Jordan, Dr. Lichenstein is focusing on CBD’s potential to treat anxiety disorders, the most common reason cited by CBD users for their interest in these products and a condition that is twice as prevalent among women than men. One in three women will meet the criteria for an anxiety or related disorder in their lifetime. In addition to direct negative impact on well-being, these disorders increase the risk of other significant harmful effects, including interpersonal difficulties, major depression, and suicide, as well as higher health care costs and higher rates of unemployment.
“We know that other substances used by women to manage anxiety, such as tobacco smoking, were once portrayed as non-addictive,” said WHRY Director Carolyn M. Mazure, Ph.D. “Yet smoking is in fact addictive and harder to quit for women compared to men.”
Currently, the most common medical treatment for anxiety disorders are benzodiazepines, medications which are twice as likely to be prescribed to women as men. These medications have been associated with a significant risk of abuse and fatal overdose when combined with alcohol or opioids.
“CBD presents a potentially promising alternative to benzodiazepines for treating anxiety, but there is a huge mismatch between the way these products are being marketed and the state of the science,” Lichenstein said. “We need to know much more about what CBD is doing, how it might operate in women, and if this is different in women and men — particularly as millions of Americans are already using it.”
Needed Research on CBD, Behavior, the Brain, and Women
Dr. Lichenstein’s study seeks to determine brain mechanisms behind how CBD affects the behavior of women, building on currently limited evidence showing that a single dose of CBD affects functional brain responses in healthy men and evidence that sex may influence how cannabis and its constituent compounds affect these responses.
“Most of what we know about how CBD acts on the brain comes from research on animals,” Lichenstein said. “There is evidence it acts on many different neural systems through diverse mechanisms of action, which makes it interesting to study. But also hard to pin down.”
Study participants will take either the FDA-approved CBD oral solution known commercially as Epidiolex or a similarly appearing and tasting but inert placebo. They will then undergo tasks proven to reliably induce low levels of stress in most healthy individuals while inside of a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner. Researchers will gather data on self-reported measures of anxiety and subjective and physiological effects following the administration of CBD or the placebo while observing and recording activation of the insula and amygdala, areas of the brain associated with stress and anxiety.
Crucially, all participants will be female, providing necessary data to compare with existing male data and to prepare applications for additional external funding for a larger study that can directly compare the effect of CBD on women and men.
Dr. Lichenstein anticipates that CBD’s effects on the insula and amygdala — and associated reduction in perceived anxiety — could be greater in women than in men.
“Women seem to have more exposure from the same dose of CBD,” Lichenstein said. “Preliminary data suggest that women reach peak concentrations more quickly and reach higher concentrations than men.”
However, it is also possible that greater exposure among women could interfere with CBD’s effects on anxiety based on preclinical studies suggesting that neurobiological channels may block the effects of CBD at higher doses and are modulated by the female sex hormone estradiol.
“If there is a point at which higher doses trigger a neurobiological mechanism that blocks the anti-anxiety effects of CBD, that could very likely lead to different effects for women and men,” Lichenstein said.
Such differences, if found in the brain and through an observed effect on anxiety reduction, would indicate the need to establish sex-specific dosing recommendations for CBD.
“We don’t know if or where a dosing cutoff exists for humans in terms of safety or reducing anxiety,” Lichenstein said. “We need research in people with anxiety disorders and research on dosing over long periods of time. But first, we need to take this initial, essential step toward understanding what exactly happens to the behavior and in the brains of women when using this popular but largely unexamined substance.”
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CBD for Women: What Are Women Using CBD For?
These days, CBD—cannabidiol, a chemical derived from cannabis—is being sold in many forms and used for many things. Find out what women are using it for.
These days, CBD—cannabidiol, a chemical derived from cannabis—has been getting a lot of buzz. It’s the supplement du jour that everyone is talking about.
But don’t expect CBD to give you an actual buzz. Because CBD is non-psychoactive and contains no tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, it doesn’t produce the high associated with marijuana. Still, since this therapeutic agent is legal in some states, it’s enticing to those who want relief minus mind-altering effects.
Countless products containing CBD have popped up, touted as natural remedies for ailments ranging from joint pain and seizures to anxiety and insomnia. CBD is thought to alleviate conditions like inflammation, migraines, nausea, sleep disorders and more. And women are getting in on it, too. (See more below on that.)
CBD is sold in various strengths and forms including oils, capsules, edibles and topicals at health food stores, smoke shops, pharmacies and more (if it’s legal in your state). You might dab CBD lotion on problematic areas or drizzle CBD oil into your coffee. Or maybe you munch on CBD edibles like chocolates or gummies.
CBD is typically safe and well tolerated. It may cause side effects like sleepiness, diarrhea, rash, decreased appetite and weakness, and it may interact with some medications, like antidepressants. Like any drug, its effects vary with the dose. Typically, the higher the dose, the more unanticipated side effects. Consult with your health care professional before trying it.
CBD is thought to help alleviate some conditions unique to women.
Hormonal imbalance: CBD may provide relief for women suffering from hormonal imbalance. One study investigating the effect of CBD found that it helped regulate the secretion of the stress-activating hormone cortisol. By influencing hormone regulation, CBD can help prevent hormonal imbalance. Also, when you use hemp-based CBD products, you’re getting omega fatty acids and gamma linolenic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid which is known to help regulate hormones.
Beauty: CBD beauty products like antiaging serums are all the rage in the beauty industry. CBD may offer women benefits like strengthening hair follicles, reducing the appearance of dark spots and improving the look and health of their skin. A 2014 study found that CBD helped suppress acne breakouts by regulating oil production of the sebaceous glands and lowering skin inflammation, says Anita Sadaty, MD, an obstetrician-gynecologist and founder of Redefining Health Medical, a women’s health medical practice in Roslyn, New York. “In general, anti-aging skin benefits may be related to the anti-inflammatory properties of CBD,” she says. Topical CBD is also great for skin rashes, eczema and psoriasis, says Dr. Sadaty.
Menopause: No evidence has been found that CBD can alleviate all menopause symptoms. But CBD may help stabilize mood changes, reduce sleep disturbances (a common menopause complaint) and decrease the rate of bone density loss that can occur during menopause. Alyssa Dweck, MD, an OB-GYN who practices in Westchester County in New York and author of The Complete A to Z for Your V, says she has seen women use CBD to help with insomnia during perimenopause and menopause.
“Sleep is interrupted during this time, impacting your day-to-day life,” she says. Her patients are using CBD oil to help them stay asleep. She says it also helps them sleep when menopause-related anxiety keeps them up at night. “Women wake up with a busy mind and can’t shut down their thoughts,” she says.
Sex: Women are turning to CBD to help improve their sex life. Dr. Dweck says that women are trying CBD oil, lubricants and sprays to enhance sexual activity and alleviate dryness and sexual pain. They hope that these products can increase pleasure, help libido, set the mood, relax muscles and ease performance anxiety. “Many women need to feel relaxed to want sex,” says Dr. Sadaty. “CBD fits the bill.”
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS): Studies have found that CBD can help alleviate PMS symptoms, which occur before or during your period. CBD may help moderate mood irregularities and overall mental health. It can help soothe bloating and cramps. It can help alleviate discomfort from swollen or tender breasts. “Anecdotally, I’ve seen it help PMS, particularly mood behavior,” says Dr. Sadaty. “However, the combination of lowering stress hormone levels, improving liver detox capabilities and reducing inflammation will target physical PMS symptoms as well.”
Just remember that CBD isn’t a miracle, cure-all solution. You can’t take CBD and expect all your problems to magically disappear. You may take it to help manage cholesterol for example, but if you eat fatty foods, you’re doing yourself no favors. To be truly healthy, you have to stop doing what’s causing your health problems.
And always check with your health care professional before taking CBD, says Dr. Dweck. You want to ensure it doesn’t interact with any medications you’re taking.