In addition to the standard “say no to drugs” tidbit, we all remember what our mom’s and dad’s used to tell us back in high school with regard to one of the major pitfalls of pot: “You better put that joint down,” they’d say, “unless you never wanna have kids in your life!”
But is there actually any truth to this? Does weed affect fertility? Or like so many other things out there, is it just another one of life’s ridiculous little wives’ tales?
In this article, we take a look at a recent study that hopefully will put an end to all the madness, and close the case once and for all on the old “does weed make you infertile” argument.
Does Weed Affect Fertility? Old and New Data Conflicts…
Back in October 2003, a study was presented during an annual meeting of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine that effectively stated marijuana makes sperm less fertile (i.e. less capable of inseminating a female egg) — even if the female is a non-smoker.
The report, carried out by Dr. Lani J. Burkman and conducted at University of Buffalo’s School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, analyzed groups of marijuana-smoking college men to try and determine what (if any) effect cannabis consumption had on levels of fertility. Unfortunately for pot advocates at the time, the results seemed to be pretty straightforward:
“Marijuana smoking [makes men’s sperm] hyper – they are way out there,” said Burkman in a statement to WedMD. “They already have begun the vigorous swimming called hyperactivation, [when in reality] sperm should be quiet at first. They should be waiting to be washed into the cervix to approach the egg, before they start hyperactivation.”
Basically what this means is that under the influence of THC, male sperm seem to become overactive, which reduces the likelihood that they’ll make the “journey” up into the female cervix where fertilization of the egg takes place. This is of course ironic, considering that the traditional “stoner” stereotype portrays pot smokers as lazy burnouts who never want to do anything (let alone do it fast).
Burkman continued: “It is not a head start. They are going to blow it. They’re too fast, too early. Each individual sperm can maintain this swimming only so long, only [for] several hours. Then it ‘poops’ out. If it has run out of hyperactivation before it gets close to the egg, it will not fertilize.”
In terms of actual semen counts, the study also showed that frequent weed use lowered the overall sperm volume as well:
“The marijuana-smoking men had significantly lower semen volume,” Dr. Burkman stated. “Many had pretty low volume – about half the male norm. If they came to our clinic as patients, we’d tell them they [were] abnormal … They are [ultimately] delivering significantly fewer sperm to the female when they have sexual intercourse.”
The general results of the study were reinforced by later statements from Dr. Cecilia Dominguez, who at the time was a physician with the Center for Reproductive Medicine at Atlanta’s Emory University. Fertility, she said, is an intricate process that’s a lot more complex than most people realize:
“The reason men have millions of sperm is because the fertility process is more difficult than people think. The whole process of ascending up the tract to the fallopian tubes and then finding the egg is delicately balanced.”
Again, not great news for stoners, as “pooped out” sperm (as Dr. Burkman so delicately put it) stand a much lower chance of successfully navigating the fallopian tubes than do properly-functioning, “sober” sperm. All in all, the study was hard news for weed-lovers and wanna-be daddy’s — or so it seemed.
New Research on Weed and Fertility Clearly Contradicts Old Data
As clear cut and straightforward as Dr. Burkman’s data appeared to be, a new, much larger study that looked at fertility levels of marijuana users suggested dramatically different results. Ultimately, it concluded with the fact that there is “no correlation between smoking weed and infertility.”
The study, which was led by Dr. Lauren Wise and carried out over a four year period (2013 – 2017) by researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH), conducted a survey of nearly 4,200 women (age 21-45) and 1,125 men living in the U.S. and Canada. It was revolutionary in a way, as it was the first study of its kind to observe a possible link between the average pre-menstrual cycle probability of conception (otherwise known as fecundability), and marijuana use.
According to results, which were published January 2018 in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, there was virtually no linkage between the two (that is, between weed use and the chances of fertility). In fact, in a summarized statement from EurekAlert, the self-proclaimed Global Source for Science News, it was ultimately determined that cannabis use “does not appear to lower a couple’s chances of getting pregnant.” Also, it’s worth noting that all of the females that took part in the study were in stable relationships, and were not on any kind of fertility treatments or prescribed medications.
However, there are a few significant details of the study that are worth pointing out, which may serve to devalue some of the acquired information and observations.
One of the most significant of these observations is the fact that the study was not done singularly on cannabis users – in fact, of the nearly 4,200 women who were surveyed, only 12% of them purported to have smoked marijuana. And of the 1,125 men who took part, only 14% of them used cannabis. Moreover, of this relatively small group it was unclear whether or not the marijuana users were habitual consumers, or simply one-time users. Of course, this was in major contrast to Dr. Burkman’s 2003 study, in which the entire target population were habitual pot smokers.
In terms of the end observation – that is, the fact that weed consumption has no effect on fertility levels – the data was simply determined by comparing the chances of fertilization of the cannabis-using groups to those of the non-cannabis using groups. Ultimately, it was concluded that there was not an increased likelihood of fertilization among the non-cannabis using individuals, as compared to those who had consumed cannabis.
So What Does This Mean – Does Marijuana Affect Fertility, or Not?
Ultimately, in terms of significance and overall validity it’s hard to argue that this new 2017 study carries more weight than Dr. Burkman’s 2003 study. For one, Burkman’s results showed beyond the shadow of a doubt that sperm counts among habitual pot users is significantly lower than that of non-users. Also, one cannot disregard the fact that Burkman’s study was directed entirely at a habitual marijuana-using population, while only 12-14% of Wise’s population had purported to use weed.
So what does this mean for you, the pot-lover who’s trying to get pregnant?
Well, we are by NO MEANS medical experts, but it seems good advice that if you are indeed trying to get pregnant, you should probably lay off the weed for as long as you can. While much more research and clinical trials need to be carried out in order to determine for sure whether or not marijuana affects fertility, it seems that it certainly doesn’t promote the cause in any way.