Sex and Marijuana: Risking Parenthood and Performance
If being called “Dad” is on your bucket list, studies say there are a few things you can do to get those sperm in fighting shape: exercise more, eat fewer fats, watch less TV (really), and lay off the marijuana.
The latter reflects what researchers have known for years – that using weed, especially heavily, appears to impair reproduction. Now they may better understand why. A new study, conducted by the Universities of Sheffield and Manchester and published in the journal Human Reproduction, suggests that marijuana can warp the shape and size of sperm, making it harder for them to reach and fertilize the egg.
The study didn’t set out to look at cannabis. Its goal was to isolate lifestyle choices that might lead to subpar sperm in the hopes of identifying ways for wanna-be parents to boost their chances of conception. Smoking, drinking, body mass index, boxers or briefs – none of it seemed to have much effect on sperm health. What researchers did notice was that those age 30 and under who smoked cannabis were most often in the group with less than 4 percent normal sperm. The more marked effect in young men, the study notes, probably relates to greater marijuana consumption.
Another reason to put down the joint comes from research into sperm mobility. THC, marijuana’s active ingredient, may act on receptions in a way that causes sperm to go into motion too early – a type of premature activation that leads them to run out of energy before they make it into the female reproductive tract, researchers theorize.
More Than Fertility at Stake
Of course, for marijuana users whose sexual experiences are matters of recreation rather than procreation, the thought that fertility may be diminished may not seem so bad. But even for them, there are some disquieting statistics.
Marijuana is celebrated by some as a sexual performance booster, but the studies that exist indicate it’s more likely to have the opposite effect. In other words: “It provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance,” as Shakespeare so tellingly said of that other love drug, alcohol.
In a 2011 report published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, researchers analyzed a variety of studies on marijuana and sexual health. While concluding that studies sometimes contradicted each other and more clinical trials are needed, the researchers found plenty to be concerned about. For example, a 2010 study, published in the journal European Urology, found that the active ingredient in marijuana can target receptors in the penis and inhibit erections. Another study reported double the rate of erectile dysfunction in marijuana users as nonusers. Other research noted that the dose may be key – the more marijuana, the more likely that sexual performance will be degraded.
Some studies have raised concern that marijuana use by males can lead to “feminization,” but results are generally inconclusive. A review of the “Endocrine Effects of Marijuana” published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology found that lower testosterone levels have been found in chronic marijuana users, but follow-up studies are inconsistent. In animal studies, marijuana has been linked directly to reduced testicular sizes. And gynecomastia, the dreaded “man boobs,” a result of an imbalance between testosterone and estrogen, was linked to marijuana use in one study although not in a control study. Still, the review calls a connection “plausible.”
Though research on marijuana’s effect on sexual health and performance has been underway since the drug first became ubiquitous in the 1960s, most studies have been limited, lacking rigorous controls and largely limited to animals. They’ve given us some insights, researchers agree, but larger, more in-depth investigations are needed before firm conclusions can be reached. Even so, users who plan on hooking up may want to think twice about lighting up.