Marijuana use could potentially lower a person’s sperm count, making it more difficult to have children
Cannabis can affect the body in a number of ways, including sperm concentration, a new study from Duke University found.
The small study, which looked at the sperm of 37 men who either used or did not use cannabis, concluded that use of the substance can significantly change a person’s sperm concentration. The study also looked at how cannabis use affected ejaculation, semen volume, semen pH, and motility, and found that the substance did not create a significant change in these categories.
“What we have found is that the effects of cannabis use on males and their reproductive health are not completely null, in that there’s something about cannabis use that affects the genetic profile in sperm,” Scott Kollins, a senior author of the study, said in a statement.
Sperm concentration affects a person’s ability to conceive, so a lower concentration could make it more difficult to have a child
Sperm concentration, along with other factors like sperm motility and testosterone levels, can affect a person’s ability to conceive a child, according to the Mayo Clinic. So the study’s findings suggest a person who uses cannabis may have more difficulty conceiving than someone who does not use cannabis.
This factor is important because if fewer sperm are present in a person’s semen, there is a decreased chance that a sperm will reach an egg and fertilize it. According to the Mayo Clinic, a low sperm count or concentration means a person has fewer than 15 million sperm per milliliter of semen. To determine a person’s sperm count, doctors must look at semen under a microscope on two separate occasions for accuracy purposes, the Mayo Clinic explained.
There’s a chance genetic sperm changes from cannabis use could be hereditary, but more research needs to be done
Since sperm concentration can greatly affect a person’s reproductive abilities, the study’s authors also looked at the potential for this trait to be passed from a cannabis user down to their offspring. Based on previous studies about cigarette smokers’ ability to pass on certain traits, they found that there is a chance cannabis users who have genetically-changed sperm might cause their children to also have genetically changed sperm.
Since the sample size of the study was relatively small, however, more research must be done to understand how cannabis affects a person’s sperm and how those genetic-level changes could be passed down to offspring.
A new study found that people who use marijuana might have lower than normal sperm concentrations, which could make it harder to conceive.
How Marijuana Can Affect Fertility
Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Although the link between marijuana and fertility is not straightforward—plenty of marijuana smokers get pregnant and get their partners pregnant—some research has demonstrated that marijuana use can negatively impact you, your partner, or the fertility of both of you.
Research suggests that marijuana can negatively affect female fertility in the following ways:
- Decreases libido. Even before intercourse takes place, marijuana use may decreases libido. And if you aren’t feeling in the mood, it’s that much more difficult to get started.
- Increases the risk of miscarriage. Marijuana use also increases the risk of miscarriage. Marijuana is known to cross the placenta and may pose a risk to the fetus, although the effects of marijuana exposure in the womb are not as well documented as the effects of alcohol and some other drugs.
Furthermore, the effects of marijuana on fertility seem to accumulate over time. This means that although teenage girls who smoke marijuana are more likely to get pregnant, by the time a chronic marijuana smoking woman is in her mid-twenties, she may be more likely to experience a delay in getting pregnant.
Despite the relaxation effects that many people associate with marijuana use, research has shown marijuana has negative effects on the male sexual response.
- Increases impotence. Cannabis use has been associated with sexual dysfunction, which can also have negative effects on the male ego. If your partner has been impotent, he may be feeling more pressure to have sex to get you pregnant, but be frustrated with his inability to do so. This can lead to misunderstandings between you that make it more difficult to have sex.
- May lead to premature ejaculation. Marijuana use has been associated with premature ejaculation.
- May decrease sperm count. A regular smoker of marijuana has a risk of having a lower sperm count.
- Affects sperm structure and function. Additionally, the sperm produced by marijuana smoking has been associated with abnormal morphology (shape) and motility (its ability to “swim” and fertilize the egg).
Quit to Prepare for Parenthood
Obviously, if you are both smoking marijuana, you risk increasing the chances of infertility as a couple.
Quitting marijuana can be harder than many long-term marijuana users expect, so you and your partner would be wise to quit as soon as possible, while you still have time to get help before getting pregnant. If either or both parents still use marijuana when the baby arrives, you are increasing the risk that your child may use drugs in the future, and parental drug use is implicated in many difficulties for children and families.
Your family doctor can help you with a referral to a counselor or clinic that can help you both quit. Couples counseling, which is offered by many addiction clinics, would be particularly helpful at this time. If you are already engaged in infertility treatment, coming clean about your marijuana could save you a lot of time, money, and heartache, if marijuana is one of the culprits for your difficulties with conception.
Learn about whether marijuana can cause infertility, including a review of research on marijuana's effects on women and men.