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Exploring How Chronic Cannabis Use Impacts The Ability to Conceive

April 20, 2021 03:30 pm ET Estimated Read Time: 5 Minutes
Exploring How Chronic Cannabis Use Impacts The Ability to Conceive

Amongst all the benefits cannabis has to offer, a crucial risk has emerged from the results of some recent research. It appears that women who consume cannabis and are trying to conceive may have a harder time doing so. A team of researchers from the National Institutes of Health, or the NIH, conducted a study led by Dr. Sunni L. Mumford. The study found that women who consume cannabis were 40% less likely to conceive per monthly cycle compared to women who do not consume cannabis at all. 

About The NIH Study

The team of researchers made use of a broader study that has 1,200 women ages 18 to 40. These participants have reported one or two pregnancy losses and out of the larger group, only 62 of the women tested positive for cannabis consumption as well as reporting cannabis use before conception. Those 62 participants were used by Dr. Mumford and team to conduct their study on the impact of cannabis on conception. 

The study found that out of the women who did become pregnant, only 42% of the cannabis consumers were successful compared to the 66% of successful pregnancies by women who do not consume cannabis. Additionally, they noted that there were “no differences in miscarriage rates between users and non-users who had achieved pregnancy”. 

The researchers stated that cannabis consumers had differences in their reproductive hormones involved in ovulation in comparison to non-users. They hypothesized that those differences were the likeliest influence of the reduction in chances of conception.

“Specifically, users had higher levels of luteinizing hormone and a higher proportion of luteinizing hormone to follicle-stimulating hormone”. 

The Luteinizing Hormone Explained

The luteinizing hormone is responsible for stimulating the “ovaries to produce oestradiol”. During the first two weeks of a woman’s cycle, the surge in the hormone causes the release of an egg during ovulation. Once successful fertilization has occurred, the hormone then stimulates the corpus luteum in order to produce enough progesterone needed to sustain the pregnancy.  However, individuals (men and women) who have high levels of luteinizing hormone run the risk of experiencing infertility, the same can also be said for hormone levels which are too low. 

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Supporting Studies That Explore Cannabis and The Ability to Conceive 

A study assessed the effects of chronic cannabis use on the luteinizing hormone (LH) and found that chronic use of cannabis “may selectively impair the hypothalamic control mechanisms regulating LH secretion”. However, another study conducted by Block, Farinpour, and Schlechte found that there was “no significant effect on hormone concentrations in either men or women”. This demonstrates that more research needs to be done in order to get more certain data- as with most aspects concerning cannabis and research. However, more is becoming available due to the increase in decriminalization and legalization.  

Dr. Zane Hauck explored the effects of cannabis on hormones and explained that the “hypothalamus secretes gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) which stimulates the pituitary to secrete follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH)”. Dr. Hauck goes on to say that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) decreases the secretion of GnRH through the regulation of neurotransmitters and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) as well as through the transduction of dopamine. Additionally, THC inhibits folliculogenesis (the maturation of ovarian follicle) as well as ovulation. Dr. Hauck also explains that during ovulation, the “body releases a surge of endocannabinoid in the ovary; excess cannabinoids from cannabis consumption can disrupt the ovulatory surge and lead to an irregular cycle”. In terms of men, THC may decrease sperm count, reduce serum testosterone as well as reduce sperm motility. 

Dr. Hauck concluded by stating that “chronic cannabis consumption can have effects on the adrenal, thyroid and reproductive systems that can potentially affect energy, behavior, and reproductive health”. However, there is a silver lining. 

There Might be a Solution

Chronic cannabis consumers may be able to increase the probability of successful conception by ceasing their heavy use of cannabis so that the body may restore normal function. This is due to the fact that the effects of cannabis on the body can be restored when ceasing consumption– thus mitigating these effects. Dr. Hauck also suggests that those who wish to conceive get periodical tests of adrenal hormones, sex hormones, and thyroid hormones in order to ensure that the body is in optimal condition for conception. 

Dr. Mumford and team noted that they studied a small group of women which may not be an accurate representation in the grander scheme of the situation and that women should exercise caution until more “more definitive evidence is available”. Additionally, the majority of the studies support the hypothesis established by Dr. Mumford and team, despite one which did not. Just as most fertility doctors recommend that couples reduce the use of alcohol and tobacco, it’s reasonable to state that women and men who are trying to conceive should do the same for chronic cannabis consumption. Individuals who wish to become parents can also consult physicians to make a plan in order to improve the chances of conception. 

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