People who are trying to get pregnant and have children may have to put their cannabis habit on hold. That’s because a new study in South Africa suggests that the use of cannabis by men who are of child-bearing age can significantly affect their fertility and alter their sperm.
The study, conducted by researchers from Duke University Medical Centre, has found that the use of cannabis among men can cause potential risk to their chances of having children. According to the study, this is because tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), or the active ingredient found in cannabis, can change the sperm.
Dr. Scott Kollins, professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University and the senior author of the study, said that they found that the effects of marijuana use on men and on their reproductive health are not entirely null. They found that there is something that negatively affects the genetic profile in sperm.
The study specifically studied the effects of THC in humans and in male rats, with a view to see marijuana’s effect before conception. It found that THC affects epigenetics, which in turn, triggers regulatory and structural changes in the DNA of the sperm.
Epigenetics is the study of inherited changes in gene expression that do not involve the changes to the underlying DNA sequence. Epigenetic change can also be influenced by several factors like environment, lifestyle, or age.
Dr. Kollins explained that they don’t really know what their findings entail, but the fact that there is an increasing number of young males of child-bearing age who can legally access cannabis in the U.S. means that this is something worth thinking about.
Experiments in rats and in 24 men found that THC appears to target genes in two major cellular pathways and changes DNA methylation. Methylation is a process that is essential to the normal development of the DNA.
Researcher Susan Murphy, who is an associate professor at Duke University and chief of the Division of Reproductive Sciences in obstetrics and gynecology, said that one of the pathways affected by the use of cannabis is involved in helping our organs reach their full size. The other pathway, meanwhile, involves a huge number of genes that regulate growth during development.
The study shows that around 150 million people around the world use cannabis and this may continue to grow as the drug becomes less and less prohibited.
Murphy said, however, that they do not know what the study’s findings imply for a developing child. She also admitted that they do not know whether the sperm that has been affected by THC can be healthy enough to fertilize an egg and for this egg to develop into an embryo.
What’s more, the study discovered that the use of cannabis in men was also associated with significantly lower sperm concentration. Murphy suggests that men who want to conceive should abstain from using cannabis at least six months before they start trying to get pregnant, in case the effects can be passed on to the next generation.
The potential effects of using cannabis, which is locally known as bhang, are very close home since Kibra MP Ken Okoth wrote to Speaker Justin Muturi asking for facilitation in preparing the Marijuana Control Bill. This bill seeks to legalize the growth and use of cannabis in the country.
To recall, a South African court in September decriminalized the use of cannabis by adults in private.