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Can Marijuana Cause Infertility?

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Updated April 22, 2014

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Question: Can Marijuana Cause Infertility?
My husband and I have smoked marijuana together since our teenage years, and we are now in our mid-twenties and would like to start a family. I came off the pill about a year ago, and I'm still not pregnant. Can marijuana cause infertility?
Answer:

Although the link between marijuana and fertility is not straightforward -- plenty of marijuana smokers get pregnant and get their partners pregnant -- research demonstrates the negative impact that marijuana can have on fertility which could be affecting you, your partner, or the fertility of both of you.

Marijuana and Female Fertility

Even before intercourse take place, marijuana decreases libido. And if you aren't feeling in the mood, it's that much more difficult to get started.

Because early drug use is associated with other risk behaviors, teenage girls who smoke marijuana are more likely to get pregnant. However, the effects of marijuana on fertility seem to accumulate over time. So, by your mid-twenties, as a chronic marijuana smoking woman, you are more likely to experience a delay in getting pregnant.

However, even occasional users of marijuana may have reduced fertility. Women who smoke marijuana have an increased risk of infertility due to abnormal ovulation, even for those women who have used low levels of marijuana within a year of trying to get pregnant. Marijuana use also increases the risk of miscarriage and is known to cross the placenta, although the effects of marijuana exposure in the womb are not as well documented as the effects of alcohol and some other drugs.

Marijuana and Male Fertility

Despite the relaxation effects that many people associate with marijuana use, research has shown marijuana has negative effects on the male sexual response. Marijuana has been found to increase impotence. As well as interfering with you and your partner being able to have sex, impotence can also have negative effects on the male ego. If your husband has been impotent, he may be feeling more pressure to have sex to get you pregnant, but be frustrated with his inability to do so. This can lead to misunderstandings between you that make it more difficult to have sex.

Marijuana can also interfere with a man's ability to ejaculate.

Marijuana also negatively affects sperm production, reducing sperm count. The sperm that are produced by a marijuana smoking man show an abnormal pattern of activity -- instead of swimming slowly, allowing them to conserve energy for the long journey to the egg, they are initially hyperactive, then run out of energy often before they can penetrate the egg.

Quit Marijuana to Prepare for Parenthood

Obviously, if you are both smoking marijuana, you risk increasing the chances of infertility as a couple, with the accumulated risks of lower sexual desire, a greater chance of impotence, fewer and weaker sperm, and ovulatory problems.

Quitting marijuana can be harder than many long-term marijuana users expect, so you and your husband 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 will use drugs in the future, and parental drug use is implicated in many difficulties for children and families.

Your family doctor can help you with a referral to a counselor or clinic that can help you both quit. Couples counseling, which is offered by many addiction clinics, would be particularly helpful at this time. If you are already engaged in fertility treatment, coming clean about your marijuana could save you a lot of time, money, and heartache, if marijuana is the culprit for your difficulties with conception.

Sources

Bari M, Battista N, Pirazzi V, Maccarrone M. "The manifold actions of endocannabinoids on female and male reproductive events." Front Biosci. 16:498-516. 2011.

Mueller BA, Daling JR, Weiss NS, Moore DE. "Recreational drug use and the risk of primary infertility." Epidemiology 1:195-200. 1990.

Smith CG, Asch RH. "Acute, short-term, and chronic effects of marijuana on the female primate reproductive function." NIDA Res Monogr. 44:82-96. 1984.

Waldron M, Heath AC, Lynskey MT, Nelson EC, Bucholz KK, Madden PA, Martin NG. "Smoking and illicit drug use associations with early versus delayed reproduction: findings in a young adult cohort of Australian twins." J Stud Alcohol Drugs 70:786-96. 2009.

Whan LB, West MC, McClure N, Lewis SE. "Effects of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the primary psychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana, on human sperm function in vitro." Fertil Steril. 85(3):653-60. 2006.

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