Infertility is one of those things that’s never an issue until it is. You might not think twice about it in your younger years, but when you want to start a family, your biological clock can turn into a time bomb. It’s an issue that results in frustration, expense, and heartbreak. Unfortunately, it’s not all that uncommon either.
According to the Center for Disease Control, infertility affects around ten percent of women between the ages of 15-44. This doesn’t mean these women can never become pregnant; it means they have a more difficult time than others.
But infertility isn’t just a “women’s” issue; men play a role as well. Studies suggest that about a third of cases are caused by the woman, a third are caused by the man, and a third are for reasons unknown (or a combo of each partner’s struggles).
The Causes of Infertility
There are many things that cause infertility, both things in a person’s control and things outside of it. For female infertility, some of the causes (according to the American Pregnancy Association) include: problems with ovulation, damage to the fallopian tubes or the uterus, problems with the cervix, hormone imbalances, tumors or cysts, and brief menstrual cycles. Eating disorders, thyroid issues, obesity, intense exercise, alcohol and drug use, and stress may play a role too.
Of course, age plays a factor. As teenagers, not using a condom “just this one time” is all but a guarantee of pregnancy, but the same can’t be said for someone in their thirties. As a woman ages, it grows more difficult to reproduce.
Over at the yin of the yang, some of the causes of male infertility include: a swelling of the veins that drain to the testicles, infections that interfere with sperm production, retrograde ejaculation, an immune system that attacks sperm, tumors, undescended testicles, hormone imbalances, defects of the tubes that carry sperm, Celiac disease, and prior surgeries. Exposure to certain industrial chemicals, radiation, drugs, alcohol, a high BMI, stress, and cigarettes may be factors as well. So may exposure to heavy metals (as in lead, not Iron Maiden).
One of the overlapping causes of infertility in both sexes – as mentioned above – is drug use. But, what does this mean? Does this apply to heroin? To Flintstone vitamins? To marijuana?
Anything that changes the body can potentially influence infertility (wine and beer impact it too), but, in regards to cannabis, the news is good and bad.
Cannabis’s Effect on the Sperm and Egg
Science suggests that, yes, marijuana may make both men and women less fertile, but this remains a controversial theory.
A study published by the New York Times way back in 1981 found that marijuana influences sex drive in two unique ways: it initially causes a surge in testosterone (and other sex hormones) for about twenty minutes before a sudden drop.
During this sudden drop, sex hormones sink to below normal levels
A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found results that didn’t completely jibe: researchers discovered that marijuana led to higher testosterone levels but lower sperm counts.
Cannabis may also influence the shape and size of sperm. The more marijuana smoked, the more likely a man will have abnormal cells, something that complicates reproduction. Some studies suggest that this is more striking in men under 30; cannabis doubles the risk of poor sperm in younger demographics.
WebMD indicates that, when a man is borderline-infertile, cannabis use can push him over the edge.
Women who use marijuana may find initial infertility as well. But women build up a tolerance to cannabis quicker than their male counterparts and this benefits them in the baby-making department.
A study published in the Journal of Pharmacology found that cannabis leads to a decrease in the level of LH hormone (a hormone that regulates the menstrual cycle and egg production) by as much as 80 percent. This can cause ovulation to stop, something that makes pregnancy impossible.
However, this cessation was short-lived. Researchers found that, in monkeys ingesting cannabis, ovulation and menstruation returned to normal within three or four months. In short, as tolerance increased, so did normalcy.
Still, ovulation isn’t the only thing involved in procreating. If people think women are complicated, they should meet the female reproduction system; many, many things play into creating life.
Like marijuana can cause slow swimmers in men, it can cause a similar thing in women. Regular marijuana use results in slow egg travel, another factor in pregnancy.
When a sperm reaches an egg, it must implant before it loses viability; if it doesn’t, the egg finds itself in an all dressed up with nowhere to go situation. Marijuana slows egg travel, resulting in delayed implantation and early miscarriage (so early that most women won’t even realize what their body is doing).
This also increases the risk of an ectopic pregnancy, a condition that happens as a result of the embryo implanting in a fallopian tube instead of the uterus. These pregnancies often require surgery because of the danger involved; they put a woman’s life at risk.
Another factor in marijuana’s impact on infertility is the endocannabinoid system. In order for a pregnancy to occur, this system needs to be in perfect harmony; marijuana can both give it stability or shake things up.
Compounding this is THC; when a woman ingests it, it tends to set up camp in the fallopian tubes, which results in an environment not entirely inviting to sperm. Yet, conflicting studies suggest this isn’t always a bad thing: in low concentrations, cannabis may help a sperm’s viability.
CBD-heavy strains may show benefit too, in part because they help relieve erectile dysfunction. But CBD may do more: per the FASEB Journal, it may help regulate sperm production.
Right Down to the Nitty Gritty
Research suggests that marijuana probably influences pregnancy odds. This isn’t very surprising since nearly everything influences these odds. Getting pregnant is an extremely complicated process that involves a boat very easily rocked.
But, while cannabis may play a role in infertility, the good news is that this role doesn’t last
putting down the pipe takes care of any marijuana-related issues. In other words, even if you smoked an entire greenhouse in your youth, refraining from use when trying to start a family eliminates cannabis complications.
This isn’t to say no one has ever gotten pregnant while smoking pot (they most certainly have….and named their son Herb); part of pregnancy, no matter how you look at it, comes down to plain old luck. But anyone struggling with fertility issues may benefit from laying off the cannabis while canoodling.