Another study in 1992 (Vescovi et al.) found that levels of luteinizing hormone(LH), an important pituitary gland hormone involved in reproductive function, were reduced in male chronic cannabis users compared to a non-cannabis-using, age-matched control group. A previous 1986 study (Cone et al.) also found a significant reduction in LH levels immediately after smoking cannabis.
For example, a 1985 paper on foetal abnormality (Qazi et al.) after prenatal exposure to cannabis discussed five infants whose mothers acknowledged use of cannabis prior to and during pregnancy and who were born with various symptoms of growth retardation, neurological dysfunction and deformity. While it may provide helpful insight, such a small sample size is far from being enough to draw concrete conclusions, and correlation does not imply causation.
While the effect of cannabis use on male fertility appears to be quite straightforward—with male chronic cannabis users being likely to experience some degree of impairment to reproductive physiology—the effect on the human female reproductive system is less clear-cut.
In a 1994 study, it was found that mammalian sperm, including that of humans, is actually incapable of fertilizing oocytes (eggs) immediately after leaving the testes. It requires a period of exposure to certain crucial hormones, enzymes and proteins on its journey through the vas deferens and ejaculatory ducts of the male reproductive system (as well as the reproductive fluids of the female vagina and oviducts) before becoming “capacitated” and able to fertilize an egg.
Clearly, the endocannabinoid system has a role to play in the regulation of processes critical to male reproductive health, such as sperm count, testosterone levels, and levels of other key hormones such as LH.
Furthermore, the effects of marijuana on fertility seem to accumulate over time. This means that although teenage girls who smoke marijuana are more likely to get pregnant, by the time a chronic marijuana smoking woman is in her mid-twenties, she may be more likely to experience a delay in getting pregnant.
Despite the relaxation effects that many people associate with marijuana use, research has shown marijuana has negative effects on the male sexual response.
Quitting marijuana can be harder than many long-term marijuana users expect, so you and your partner would be wise to quit as soon as possible, while you still have time to get help before getting pregnant. If either or both parents still use marijuana when the baby arrives, you are increasing the risk that your child may use drugs in the future, and parental drug use is implicated in many difficulties for children and families.
Obviously, if you are both smoking marijuana, you risk increasing the chances of infertility as a couple.
Although the link between marijuana and fertility is not straightforward—plenty of marijuana smokers get pregnant and get their partners pregnant—some research has demonstrated that marijuana use can negatively impact you, your partner, or the fertility of both of you.
Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Research suggests that marijuana can negatively affect female fertility in the following ways:
A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2015 appears to suggest that it can. The study observed over 1,200 Danish men aged 18-28, 45% of which had smoked cannabis in the previous three months. Twenty-eight percent of study participants used marijuana more than once a week. The study discovered that those who used cannabis regularly had a 29% reduction in sperm count.
However, a study published in Human Reproduction in 2019 appears to contradict the research above. This study, which took place over 17 years from 2000 to 2017, examined 1,100 semen samples from male patients enrolled in the Massachusetts General Hospital Fertility Center. The study found that cannabis users had a higher sperm count per milliliter of ejaculate (62.7 million sperm compared to 45.4 million in non-cannabis users). Only 5% of cannabis-using test subjects had sperm count levels considered low (below 15 million per milliliter).
Unfortunately, there are still challenges associated with carrying out quality cannabis-based research.
What About Male Fertility? Does Cannabis Reduce Sperm Count?
The general discrepancy in the observations made from these above-referenced studies means we can’t draw any firm conclusions regarding the ongoing debate of marijuana and infertility. Without a doubt, more research needs to be done on the topic.
In fact, according to currently available statistics, upwards of 8% of non-pregnant reproductive-aged women use cannabis on a relatively consistent basis. As authors of the above publication observe, “prenatal marijuana exposure [can be] associated with poor offspring outcomes,” including an increased prevalence of conditions like low birth weight and impaired brain development.
There is a body of evidence suggesting that marijuana causes infertility. However, even more concerning is relatively recent research that suggests that fertility, especially in males — may be declining overall.
A major underlying concern, particularly given evidence that cannabis use is on the rise (as well as evidence that smoking tobacco affects fertility), is whether or not marijuana causes infertility. Another is whether cannabis use may have a variable impact on males’ and females’ fertility and reproduction potential.