Marijuana Decreases Fertility and the Ability to Conceive
Is it possible that marijuana use decreases fertility?
A friend of mine has been trying to get pregnant for several years now, with little success. She’s had her eggs checked, her hormone levels tested, and her ovulation tracked. Everything has always come back normal.
By all means, she is a healthy woman in her 30’s. Her husband, however, is a different story. He doesn’t take care of himself, health-wise.
He can’t go a day without smoking weed. His addiction to marijuana got me thinking: Was the habit contributing somehow to their infertility?
According to some experts, the answer to that question is yes. Some recent studies have demonstrated that marijuana use can negatively impact the fertility of both males and females, in several ways.
THC Negatively Effects Our Endocannabinoid System
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the active, psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. It activates the cannabinoid receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system. This is a system that is prevalent in both sexes’ reproductive organs.
Dr. Felice Gersh is an OB-GYN and founder of the Integrative Medical Group in Irvine, California.
“Marijuana interferes with the normal functioning of our endocannabinoid system, and that complex biological system is involved with every aspect of fertility-ovulation, tubal transport, readying of the uterine lining, and timing and proper implantation of the embryo at the blastocyst stage,” she says.
As a result, THC can interrupt many of our body’s reproductive functions and throw them off track.
Marijuana Use Decreases Fertility: Sperm Count and Quality
And that’s not the only study that shows marijuana may negatively impact sperm. In a 2021 study, researchers from Tulane and the University of Washington found a connection between low semen volume and damaged sperm among marijuana-smoking men.
Of the 409 men participating in the study, current and past marijuana users (about 42 percent of the participants) were more than twice as likely to have abnormal sperm development.
Along with abnormal sperm development, current and past marijuana users were also significantly more likely to have low semen volume.
“This is one of the first studies that show a decline in sperm quality in current and past marijuana smokers, compared to non-smokers,” says Dr. Omer A. Raheem, lead author of the study and assistant professor of urology at Tulane University School of Medicine. “This is significant because it adds to the evolving evidence of the potential negative impacts of marijuana on human reproduction.”
Marijuana Use Can Delay Ovulation Cycles
Marijuana use may decrease fertility in women as well. Studies have shown that it may interfere with ovulation. But why is this?
High amounts of THC can decrease the production of estrogen and without the high estrogen spike, ovulation will not occur.
~ Dr. Felice Gersh, OB-GYN.
And, without ovulation, no egg will be released. And, if the egg isn’t released, it certainly can’t be fertilized.
Recent research appears to confirm this theory. In a study of 201 women, ovulation was delayed by an average of 1.7 to 3.5 days for the 29 women who smoked marijuana at least once in the preceding three months.
Female marijuana users also could have a more difficult time, in general, conceiving a child than women who do not use marijuana.
In a study conducted by the National Institutes of Health, researchers analyzed data from a broader study. This study consisted of more than 1,200 women ages 18 to 40 trying to conceive after suffering one or two prior miscarriages.
Women who had used marijuana while trying to conceive were 41 percent less likely to conceive than non-users within each monthly cycle.
Similarly, a smaller proportion of marijuana users became pregnant during the study when compared to non-users. About 42 percent of participants versus 66 percent saw this issue. The authors say their results suggest that women trying to conceive should use caution with their marijuana use until more definitive evidence becomes available.
Marijuana Use Can Exacerbate Pre-Existing Fertility Issues
For most couples, smoking marijuana regularly won’t cause a major impact when trying to conceive. But according to a recent study, the changes in ovulatory function and sperm count associated with smoking marijuana could add even more of a challenge for a couple already struggling with infertility. This is because marijuana has the potential to take any fertility problem and make it worse, says Dr. Gersh.
Especially since it impacts so many aspects of the reproductive system.
Ultimately, there is still a lot we don’t know about how marijuana impacts our reproductive system. Too few studies have been conducted. And more research into the consequences of our reproductive health is needed.
“For this reason, anyone trying to conceive should avoid marijuana,” says Dr. Sara Illnitsky, reproductive endocrinology and infertility fellow at Western University in London, Ontario.
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Images Courtesy of Canva.