How Does Cannabis Affect Male Fertility?
Our understanding of cannabis and how it interacts with our bodies continues to evolve at a rapid pace – bringing countless urban legends into question.
From cannabis causing lung cancer to cannabis causing laziness, researchers have debunked myth after myth.
But what about the belief that using cannabis leads to sperm burnout?
Is there any truth to this claim about cannabis and sperm motility, or is it yet another result of misinformation in a federally illegal climate?
We decided to assess the facts and see what researchers, as well as experts, had to say on the subject.
Putting male fertility into perspective
In the United States alone, 10-15% of couples experience trouble conceiving.
And 30% of these issues relating to infertility can be attributed to sperm production, structural abnormalities, and ejaculatory issues.
However, few men tend to be “in tune” with their own fertility.
Unless a problem occurs, men are unlikely to give this issue more than a second thought.
Whether a man uses cannabis or not, the health of their sperm can be affected by a slew of other factors:
- General state of health
- Nutritional status
- Prior STIs
- Hormonal balance
And we also know that the health of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) also plays a role in fertility.
Role of the Endocannabinoid System
The ECS helps govern pretty much every metabolic process in our body. This important network of neurotransmitters, located in the brain and throughout the entire body, depends on cannabinoids to do its thing.
These could be endocannabinoids produced by our own body, or when those aren’t enough we turn to the cannabinoids in cannabis to supplement the ECS, which keeps everything in balance.
Cannabis’s binding effect with the cannabinoid receptors (called CB1 and CB2) that make up the ECS explains the plant’s efficacy for so many different ailments and illnesses, both physical and mental.
Some of the many systems in our body that the ECS helps keep in balance include the:
- Immune system
- Reproductive system
- Cardiovascular system
- Gastrointestinal/urinary tract
- Nervous system
- And many others!
Because the reproductive system is populated with CB2 receptors, we know that cannabis has a direct impact. The true question is what kind of impact.
What Does Research Indicate?
This study, published in 2015, revealed that CB2 receptors indeed contribute to the physiological regulation of spermatogenesis (aka – the production of sperm).
In order to understand this phenomenon, the researchers examined three groups of mice.
The first group of mice was given a CB2 agonist (turns a process on) while the second group of mice was given a CB2 antagonist (turns a process off) the third group of mice was given a saline solution.
Over the course of 14 to 21 days, scientists discovered the mice given the CB2 agonist, or activator, demonstrated an increase in spermatogenesis.
The results while promising are also conflicting with other studies indicating the negative impact of cannabis on sperm production.
So, what’s the real answer here?
CB2, Spermatogenesis, and Male Fertility
We consulted a specialist on the topic to see if we could find out more about the relationship between CB2, spermatogenesis, and male fertility.
Dr. Jordan Tishler, a Harvard-trained Holistic Care expert with a focus on cannabis therapeutics, stress management, insomnia, and human sexuality is a leading expert in the field of Medical Cannabis therapeutics.
“To simply say that THC binds to the CB2 receptor as an antagonist or agonist, which in fact is typically what we call a partial-agonist, is not a sophisticated enough look,” Dr. Tishler says.
“What we really need to know is if the receptor is activated or deactivated and what it actually does to spermatogenesis,” he continues. “And I don’t think we know the answer to that yet.”
What is clear, Tishler explains, is that cannabis causes about a 25% decrease in the function and number of sperm.
“It triggers a hyperactivity that is associated with the sperm trying to break into the egg. If this happens too early in the journey then the sperm tires out and dies,” Dr. Tishler says.
“Further, the tip of the sperm called the Acrosome, has been shown not to work properly (it helps get the sperm into the egg) under the influence of cannabis.”
Tishler emphasizes, however, that we still have a long way to go before making any definitive statements about whether or not males – when trying to conceive – should completely avoid cannabis or even stick to certain strains.
“No one seems to have studied if those lab findings on cannabis triggering hyperactivity in sperm actually lead to decreased fertility in the real world,” he says.
Should you stop cannabis or not?
While findings have revealed both a positive and negative correlation between cannabis and male fertility, the results are limited.
We need to see more real world implications in order to truly understand what’s taking place here, Tishler says.
“Although studies indicate sperm loss associated with cannabis use, the reduction of sperm is only likely to be meaningful in men who are already predisposed to fertility troubles for other causes,” Tishler adds.
The truth is male infertility can be attributed to many factors and to immediately blame cannabis might be a bit too presumptive.
And many cannabis patients, people who depend on this herb to treat any number of illnesses, may have difficulty giving up this medicine for a while.
“Serious scientific research on fertility, and in particular the male side of fertility is woefully neglected to begin with,” Dr. Tishler says.
“And when we add the cannabis aspect to it, we clearly need more research,” he adds. “But saying we need more research does not equate to people not using the medicine. There is plenty of good evidence for using cannabis. The science needs to get done, but it shouldn’t stand in the way of our current use of the medication.”
In other words, although you may decide to cut cannabis while trying to make a baby, be sure to consider all the other variables that may be affecting reproduction.
Any readers want to weigh in? Any positive or negative experiences with cannabis and fertility in general?