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Perspective of the Female Patient

The cannabis industry seems to hold many assumptions about the female patient. The stereotype of the female patient is clear after a single Google: they stick with CBD-rich and low potency strains, they are more interested in the wellness side of the spectrum than the medicinal side, and they steer clear of smokables.


These assumptions tend to pigeon hole women into a very specific consumer profile. Furthermore, from the limited information we have about women and cannabis, it’s an inaccurate and reductive patient portrait missing the many different perspectives women have about the plant. The impacts go far beyond failures in marketing; it ultimately fails the patient. 


Women are not only a growing portion of the cannabis market (both medicinal and recreational sectors); they are an economic force to be reckoned with. Women now drive the global economy, with a share larger than China and India combined. 


To treat the female patient as a singular, one-dimensional consumer ignores their multifaceted reality.


The Female Patient According to RYAH Data


The RYAH Data ecosystem tells us that 45.1 percent of patients reporting through the platform are women. The top areas of concern for women within the platform are as follows (in descending order of importance):


  1. Anxiety 
  2. Depression
  3. Stress 
  4. Pain
  5. Insomnia
  6. Headaches
  7. Mood Swings
  8. Fatigue
  9. Migraines
  10. Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)

These conditions differ slightly with those of the male patient, but not by much. It’s easy to assume women primarily rely on the plant for mental health concerns (which make up 50 percent of the top ten issues). While true in isolation, men are technically more reliant on the flower for the treatment of mental health issues than women.


Men use cannabis for all of the mental health conditions listed above, plus attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which is not reflected in the data for women.


In terms of preference of strain, RYAH Data demonstrates that it’s impossible to paint female patients with the same brush. Women are just as likely to prefer THC-rich strains and CBD-rich ones. The top strains in RYAH Data for women are:


  1. Harlequin
  2. Super Lemon Haze
  3. Cannatonic
  4. AC/DC 
  5. Pure OG

While three out of the top five strains contain significant levels of CBD, the other two (Super Lemon Haze and Pure OG) typically exhibit 20 percent or more THC. As per some lab reports, Pure OG is upwards of 25 percent THC, and Super Lemon Haze can hit over 17 percent. To assume women prefer mild, CBD forward strains is incorrect. 


The Female Patient According to Patient Surveys


The profile of the medical cannabis consumer is still vaguely defined by information pulled from a handful of regionally focused and limited patient surveys. Moreover, most of the information we have about medical cannabis patients comes from broad surveys looking at both recreational and medicinal use. They don’t hone into the profiles of patients using the plant for strictly therapeutic purposes.

 

Most of the information we have has been gathered from Canada through the long-standing medical cannabis program, or from patient surveys in California. With over 30 states with medical cannabis programs, the lack of national or global data is problematic.


As per Statista, which sells market insights on cannabis in Canada, women were slightly more likely to use the plant for depression, anxiety, and pain than men. Statista also found women were significantly more likely to use cannabis for fibromyalgia than men (although this is likely skewed because fibromyalgia is a condition that disproportionately affects women). 


According to the most recent report by Stats Canada, women tend to consume less frequently than men. Women also use less cannabis in general. Stats Canada has found that men are also more likely to use for recreational reasons compared to women who remained evenly split between medical and non-medical use.


The National Cannabis Survey from Stats Canada indicated women were twice as likely as men to rely on non-smokable products, which included edibles, oil cartridges, and vape pens. To note, at the time of this report, all three of these products were illegal in Canada.


In California, the survey results are similar, even with differences in landscape and legislation. As per “Sex Differences in Cannabis Use and Effects: A Cross-Sectional Survey of Cannabis Users” published in the Journal of Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, male consumers in California, “reported using cannabis more frequently and in higher quantities than did women.” 


When the authors of this survey controlled for medicinal applications, women were more likely to report using the plant for therapeutic purposes. What did they treat? According to the analysis, “Women were significantly more likely than men to report using cannabis to treat anxiety, nausea, anorexia, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and headaches/migraines.” They found no measurable differences between the sexes on their perceptions about the effectiveness of cannabis.


Interestingly, this same study found that women are almost twice as likely to initiate use after 30 years of age. The female demographic in RYAH Data always is weighted more heavily over the age of thirty, when compared to their male counterparts.


What’s Missing from this Profile?


This data suggests women use cannabis less frequently than their male counterparts. Unless a female patient is treating a condition that disproportionately affects women, men and women are very similar in the health concerns treated with cannabis. A few examples of conditions women treat more than men with flower include fibromyalgia, anxiety, and multiple sclerosis.


We also know female patients tend to prefer non-smoked products, although the specifics around this information are less certain. Some research suggests women prefer edibles and vaped products, but this information was for both medicinal and recreational users. In the medical world, there is more stigma around smoking, and the impact this has on the preferred method of consumption isn’t known.


After Canada updates federal legislation to include other products like topicals, concentrates, and edibles, there will be more information available on product preferences by gender.


What’s largely missing from this picture is the many painful medical conditions that overwhelmingly impact women. These include fibromyalgia, menstrual cramps, endometritis, and multiple sclerosis. While each of these conditions may benefit from the analgesic properties of cannabis, these conditions are unfortunately missing in whole or in part from many of the most recent patient surveys. 


As has been the case for centuries, female medical concerns fail to get the attention of the research sector. This seems to be the case for medical cannabis research, as well. The male patient and male medical concerns have thus far gotten most of the attention. 


What would happen if these largely female conditions were included in the data on women and cannabis? It could drastically shift the female patient profile, as well as demonstrate accurate numbers of the female demographic.


Our current assumptions about how and why women turn to cannabis are reductive. Men are just as likely as women to treat mental health concerns with the plant, and women love THC just as much as CBD. From RYAH Data and the limited information available from patient surveys, we know women are a diverse demographic.


To reduce the female patient to a singular mindset, condition, and product has long-lasting impacts on the market and women’s health concerns. The industry would be wise to open up the perspective and look into the multifaceted perspective of the female patient.

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