Cannabis, or marijuana, is the most commonly used illegal drug in the United States and is legal for recreational use across much of the Country. Around 18% of Americans used cannabis at least once in 2019, and up to 3 in 10 people may have marijuana misuse disorder. Its common use may make it seem like a ‘safe’ drug, but it has many side effects including respiratory illness and an increased risk of psychosis. However, scientists have now uncovered new data to suggest that using cannabis could also impact male fertility.

Cannabis and Infertility

A study published in July 2022 evaluated the impact of recreational cannabis on the quality of sperm produced by white-European men. The men had all attended a doctor with their partner after being unable to conceive.

Of the 2074 men in the study, 225 men (10.9%) had reported using cannabis during their lifetime. The researchers, based in Italy and the USA, documented the testosterone levels and semen analysis results of all of the men in the study. They found that those who had used cannabis were more likely to have changes to sperm morphology (the size and shape of the sperm cells), as well as lower levels of total testosterone.

The research team concluded that infertile men who had used cannabis were more likely to have lower testosterone levels and a greater chance of changes to the size and shape of sperm cells, when compared to those who had never used cannabis.

The Impact for Men

Cannabis may be used recreationally but if you are trying to conceive, or think you might want to have children in future, it may be impacting your natural hormones and the healthy production of sperm cells.

If there are any changes to the normal morphology of a sperm cell, such as a misshapen head or a crooked or double tail, the sperm may not swim correctly. This means it may be unable to swim to the egg, and conception may therefore not occur naturally.

The good news is that men produce many sperm cells each day, and only around 4% of these need to be of the correct morphology for semen analysis to be considered normal. However, having a higher percentage of normally formed sperm cells may increase your chance of conceiving more quickly.

Giving Up Cannabis

You can’t change the past, but if you currently use cannabis and think you would like children in your future, it is worth finding a way to give up this recreational activity now. Cannabis can also be harmful to a developing baby, so if your partner also uses cannabis, you should both take steps to quit.

The following tips may help you successfully leave cannabis behind.

  • Pick a stop date, and stick to it. Before you stop, get some support in place from friends or family.
  • Set up a routine for each day, including getting up at the same time, having a consistent bedtime, eating regularly, and planning exercise or activities.
  • Think about new habits you can swap for cannabis use. This might include socializing, exercise, watching a movie, going for a walk, or cooking a healthy meal.
  • Consider your triggers for cannabis use, and try to avoid these. If cannabis calms your anxiety, consider speaking to a doctor or therapist for advice regarding managing your mental health in a positive way.
  • If you experience cravings, set a timer on your phone to see if you can delay using cannabis by 5 minutes, then try another 5, and so on. Find distractions when the urges are bad, such as calling a friend, taking a shower, or exercising.
  • If quitting feels hard, seek support from an addiction specialist or join a Narcotics Anonymous (NA) support group.

Final Thoughts

In men who see their doctor for infertility, those who have used cannabis are at a greater risk of having changes to the morphology of their sperm cells. If you use cannabis and want to have children, it is wise to give up this habit. Breaking any habit or addiction can be hard, but support is available.

If you are trying to conceive, you can find out about your motile sperm concentration at home with the YO Home Sperm Test. If you have used cannabis, however, it is wise to seek professional semen analysis undertaken by a fertility specialist who will also check the morphology of your sperm cells.