The Impact of Marijuana on Fertility

As marijuana use is legalized in more states and it becomes more socially acceptable to use it recreationally, use of this drug has increased. This holds true for couples of reproductive age who may be trying to conceive. Accordingly, it is critical that doctors understand how marijuana use may affect fertility preservation so that they may provide reliable advice to patients.

Health professionals have long suspected that marijuana use may have a negative effect on sperm health. However, scientific research in this area is lacking, and it is even sparser with regard to female fertility. A recent study published by the Canadian Medical Association Journal seeks to highlight what is and what is not known about marijuana’s effect on fertility.

Study co-author Dr. Sara Ilnitsky says that “marijuana has the potential to significantly affect the reproductive system.” However, evidence regarding the clinical effects are still being determined.

The tetrahydrocannabionol (THC) that is present in marijuana acts upon the endocannabinoid system in the body, which is responsible for regulation and communication between the brain, the immune system and endocrine tissues. The reproductive organs are a part of this system. Accordingly, their proper functioning may be interrupted through the introduction of THC.

Ilnitsky also notes that there is conflicting evidence regarding the effect of marijuana on sperm count. One study demonstrated a 29 percent decrease in sperm levels in men who regularly used marijuana. However, another study showed that men who had smoked marijuana at some point in their lives had an overall higher sperm count than men who hadn’t. ​The methodological flaw in that study was that data could include men who smoked marijuana once years ago and they would have their data included, when it is likely marijuana has a 3 months impact on sperm after smoking.  Ilnitsky says that without further study, it is impossible to reconcile these findings regarding marijuana use and its effect on male fertility. Additionally, it is even harder to determine marijuana’s effect on female fertility. Nonetheless, one study suggests that THC may reduce estrogen levels, thereby delaying or preventing ovulation.

The CDC further suggests that marijuana use may have other short- and long-term health effects that should be weighed when considering use of the drug.

Although the link between cannabis and fertility haven’t been found to have strong association, couples who have infertility or who have been unable to conceive for an extended period of time may want to consult with fertility specialists. For women, this means scheduling an appointment with a ​reproductive endocrinologist while men may seek the advice of a reproductive urologist.

For now, it seems sensible for couples who are trying to conceive to avoid marijuana use in order to improve their overall chances of getting pregnant.