Marijuana and Infertility

Lay Off

If you like to use marijuana for recreational purposes, we won't tell, but beware: if you're trying to conceive (TTC) you better lay off those joints. Researchers from the University of Buffalo have found solid proof that marijuana is implicated in some cases of infertility. At an annual meeting of the American Society for Cell Biology, Herbert Schuel and his colleagues described a process of a cell signaling system that is responsible for regulating sperm function and that is activated by a substance similar to THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. This system is in large measure responsible for normal egg fertilization and can be activated by a molecule known as anandamide, which is similar in makeup to cannabinoid. During the course of this study, anandamide was found for the first time in human seminal plasma, follicular fluid, and in mid-cycle oviductal fluid. 

Schuel believes these findings suggest that a malfunctioning of signal receptors as their response to too much cannabinoid might be the primary factor in specific forms of infertility. "A better understanding of these mechanisms might lead to the development of novel drugs useful in reproductive medicine. For heavy marijuana users, the study results raise the possibility they are jeopardizing fertility by overloading this system," says Schuel.

There is still a lot to learn about the process whereby sperm get ready to fertilize an egg. Sperm must first go through a kind of activation process before they can start their swim for the finish line where they then have to secrete a penetrative enzyme to get through the protective coating of the egg. This is called the acrosome reaction.

Schuel's work demonstrates that anandamide and THC can complicate this routine by three different means. Low amounts of either substance make the sperm swim faster, while too much can slow them down to a crawl. Both substances make it hard for sperm to effect the acrosome reaction. Perhaps most important of all, the substances keep sperm from sticking to the egg's outer layer. These effects were demonstrated by the use of AM-356, a synthesized version of anandamide.

Burnt Out

Schuel believes that those men who smoke marijuana on a regular basis flood their systems with cannabinoids, which then affect the endocannabinoid-signal systems as represented in their reproductive systems, leading to their inability to father a child. This is a furthering of what researchers have already seen in the last 3-4 decades: that marijuana causes a marked reduction in the number of sperm produced.

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