Does marijuana affect fertility? – infertility clinic Phoenix
In recent years, many states have legalized marijuana for medical use, and a handful of states have legalized recreational use as well. In our area, both Arizona and New Mexico now allow medical marijuana usage, and California and Nevada also allow recreational usage. With this new environment around marijuana, we’re hearing more and more patients asking about marijuana usage at our infertility clinic Phoenix. If you’re trying to get pregnant, should you worry about pot?
The short answer is, yes, smoking or eating marijuana can negatively affect your fertility. (However, this doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to get pregnant while using marijuana, so don’t rely on it as birth control!) Although scientists are still learning more about the effects of marijuana on the reproductive system, there has been a great deal of research on this topic in recent years. Marijuana appears to have effects on fertility in both men and women, through a variety of different mechanisms.
Marijuana affects hormonal balance
In both men and women, marijuana can affect hormonal balance. It interferes with the secretion of luteinizing hormone (LH). In women, a surge of LH normally triggers ovulation. In men, LH is involved in the production of healthy sperm. A decrease in LH therefore affects fertility in both genders.
In addition, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana) decreases the production of testosterone in men. Because testosterone is involved in the reproductive process in men at several different levels, this can affect fertility. Testosterone is necessary for the production of healthy sperm. Also, men with lower testosterone are less interested in sex and have greater difficulty getting erections. Less sex could mean a smaller chance of conceiving a child.
Marijuana affects sperm
Men who use marijuana regularly are more likely to have a low sperm count. Marijuana use also affects sperm quality, with users having a greater risk of having poor quality sperm (sperm with abnormal shapes and sizes, which leaves them unable to successfully fertilize an egg). These effects are partly mediated by testosterone. It appears that there are also other mediators for the effects of marijuana on sperm count, including a direct effect of THC.
In addition, newer research has shown that sperm exposed to THC exhibit a phenomenon known as early hyperactivation. Normally, sperm spend very little energy while still inside of the man’s body. Once they are inside of the vagina, they begin swimming, but at a sustainable pace. When the sperm gets close to the egg, it receives a chemical signal from the egg that causes the sperm to begin swimming extremely fast. This burst of speed is called hyperactivation, and it gives the sperm the extra push that it needs to reach and fertilize the egg.
THC causes the sperm to exhibit hyperactivation while still inside of the testis. This causes the sperm to use up their limited supply of energy too early, so that they don’t have enough left to successfully fertilize an egg. The reason this happens appears to be that the signal that the egg normally sends is chemically very similar to THC. The sperm mistakes the THC for a signal that it’s near an egg, and responds accordingly.
Marijuana affects ovulation and the early embryo
Women who smoke marijuana tend to have an increase in the number of anovulatory cycles (menstrual cycles in which a ripe egg is not released). This occurs through marijuana’s interference with hormonal balance (particularly LH). This effect is complex, and depends on the frequency and duration of a woman’s marijuana usage.
THC also slows down the progress of a fertilized egg through the fallopian tube and to the uterus. If the embryo doesn’t make it to the uterus in time to implant, then a healthy pregnancy will not result. The embryo may simply break down and be expelled from the body. The embryo may also implant in the fallopian tube instead of in the uterus; this is called an ectopic pregnancy. (An ectopic pregnancy can’t result in a baby, and is also dangerous for the mother.)
Interestingly, use of marijuana by a woman can also impact fertility through its effects on sperm. When a woman uses marijuana, THC enters her reproductive tract. When sperm enter her body, they will be exposed to this THC. As a result, sperm may exhibit early hyperactivation in the vagina, before getting to the fallopian tube (where fertilization takes place).
The changes aren’t permanent
If you’re a current or past user of marijuana, don’t despair. Although marijuana impairs fertility, the available evidence indicates that this isn’t a permanent effect. If you stop using marijuana, then your fertility should return to normal. However, it may take a few months for your hormonal system to rebalance. For men, it takes time for new, healthy sperm to be formed.
If you do become pregnant, you should know that it’s also recommended for mothers to avoid marijuana during the pregnancy, because it can cause some complications. This includes avoiding second-hand marijuana smoke, so the mother’s partner should also be careful about smoking around her.
Infertility clinic Phoenix
If you’re trying to conceive, you should consider eliminating marijuana from your life. You don’t have to stop using it forever, unless you choose to. However, laying off the weed for a few months can increase your chances of conception. Whether you’re a man or a woman, marijuana can affect your fertility.
If you’ve been trying for a year without success (or six months if you’re 35 or older), then it’s time to visit a fertility professional. Reproductive Health Center, located in Tucson and serving patients from Phoenix, Scottsdale, and even farther afield, is an Optum Center of Excellence in fertility care. We want to help you build the healthy family you so desire. Please contact our office to book your appointment.