Oct
19
2019

How Marijuana Affects Your Reproductive Health

The latest edition of the British Columbia Medical Journal contains an article on how marijuana affects your reproductive health.

Dr. Dunne is an assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of British Columbia. She is the author of the linked review above.

Products of the Cannabis sativa plant like marijuana and hashish are most popular in North America. Since October 2018 smoking recreational marijuana is legal in Canada.

The medical community has some concerns, as we do not fully know the long-term effects of smoking marijuana. In the following I will summarize the effects on the male and female reproduction based on Dr. Caitlin Dunne’s report.

Consumption of marijuana

Marijuana contains over 500 compounds, of which 100 are cannabinoids. The ingredient that produces the high a user gets is due to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Cannabis is available in different forms. It can be smoked (raw leaves or extract), but it can also be converted into edibles. Ingestion of cannabis creates a longer-lasting experience. The reason for this is that the liver metabolizes cannabis into more psychoactive forms by the liver enzyme, cytochrome P-450. Smoking marijuana can irritate the airways; oral consumption of cannabis products can lead to vomiting, nausea and disorientation.

Contaminants in cannabis such as pesticides, microbial toxins and metals can also be harmful to recreational marijuana users.

Endocannabinoid system

Researchers found endogenous cannabinoids in the brain that function as messenger molecules. They need to activate their targets, the cannabinoid receptors, called CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are found mainly in the central nervous system. CB2 receptors are located mainly in the immune system. Reproductive organs have their own cannabinoid receptors. The lining of the uterus contains only CB1 receptors. Ovaries and testicles both use CB1 and CB2 receptors. THC from smoking or ingesting marijuana can stimulate these cannabinoid receptors also. But compared to the body’s own cannabinoids THC is much stronger. This leads to more pronounced effects that concern many physicians.

How marijuana affects your reproductive health: female fertility

The normal functioning of the body requires that the hypothalamus send gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) to the pituitary to release follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). The FSH release happens mainly in the first two weeks of the menstrual cycle. LH is released in the 3rd and 4th week of the menstrual cycle. Only when the female hormone rhythm works can a follicle in the ovary mature and ovulate normally. After ovulation the corpus luteum needs further LH stimulation to start prednisone production, which helps with embryo implantation and with sustaining the pregnancy.

THC from cannabis consumption interferes at all the levels of these hormone actions. Cannabinoids suppress GnRH, FSH and LH release.

This is the reason why moderate to heavy users of marijuana have infertility problems. If a woman is a moderate to heavy consumer of marijuana she cannot ovulate normally, and hence she has difficulties getting pregnant.

How marijuana affects your reproductive health: pregnancy

THC from cannabis use can cross the placental barrier. Levels in cord blood are three to six times lower than the mother’ blood level, as the placenta attempts to detoxify THC.

Prenatal exposure to cannabis can interfere with fetal growth and alter neurodevelopment. These children can have permanent effects regarding academic achievement and intellectual capacity. Other risks are hyperactivity, attention-deficit disorder, and impulsivity, but also future substance abuse.

CB1 receptors seem to regulate mitochondria, the energy packages of cells and cellular adenyl cyclase.

The end results are mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress.

Clinical studies regarding cannabis use in pregnancy

Recently a BC study followed 243,140 pregnant women. Over an 8-year period cannabis use rose from 2.2% to 3.3%. Closer analysis of the pregnant cannabis group showed an increased risk of poor perinatal outcomes. 47% had smaller babies than expected (“small for gestational age” is the medical term). 27% were born prematurely, there was a risk of 2.4-fold that the baby died in the womb (“intrapartum stillbirth”). Women who used cannabis often used other illicit drugs as well. They also often had a history of mental illness. The authors relied on self-reporting, which means the cannabis use likely was underreported.

An American study

An American study from 2016 identified 7,851 pregnant patients who used cannabis. Like the BC study they showed a low-birth weight and preterm deliveries. But when the authors controlled for confounding factors, namely mainly tobacco use, statistical significance disappeared.

Often marijuana users are also tobacco users. Tobacco has long been proven to lead to prematurely born babies and babies that are too small for their age. The BC study had controlled for tobacco use and thee results were only due to smoking or consuming marijuana.

How marijuana affects your reproductive health: male fertility

Males on cannabis also contribute to infertility of the couple. The hypothalamic/pituitary/testicle hormone axis needs to also be intact for proper sperm cell maturation to take place. In medical language sperm cells are spermatozoa. The hypothalamus generated gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which stimulates the pituitary to release FSH and LH. LH stimulates testosterone production in the Leydig cells of the testicles. FSH stimulates spermatogenesis (production of sperm cells) from the so-called Sertoli cells. Testosterone, along with FSH provides a stimulatory effect on spermatogenesis. Whenever a system is that complicated, much can go wrong. Sperm cells contain both CB1 and CB2 receptors. When the man uses marijuana regularly, THC exposure can significantly interfere with CB1 and CB2 receptors.

Effects of THC on sperm motility, sperm concentrations and DNA

This leads to sperm cell mobility reduction. In an experiment where THC was added to sperm from 78 men in vitro (Petri dishes) researchers simulated high marijuana users and moderate marijuana users.

They found that lower THC concentrations caused 28% sperm motility reduction, high TCH caused 56% sperm motility reduction. Many other publications exist that documented similar results and correlated these findings with infertility of couples.

Studies on sperm cell motility and marijuana use are inconsistent. In 2019 a study came out from the Chan Scholl of Public Health where researchers analyzed 1143 semen samples and 317 blood samples.

They found no difference in terms of findings among men who smoked marijuana versus men who never smoked Marijuana. They looked at sperm concentrations, DNA aberrations of sperm cells.

This leaves many questions open regarding marijuana toxicity.

How Marijuana Affects Your Reproductive Health

How Marijuana Affects Your Reproductive Health

Conclusion

Marijuana affects the reproductive organs, but it is easier to document in women than in men. In women marijuana has an effect on fertility and on pregnancy, which is measurable. However, in men the results of investigations have been conflicting. Here is a statement of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada. They believe “there is sufficient evidence of harm to advise women to avoid cannabis when pregnant”. Use of marijuana is also not advisable for women who are breastfeeding. At this point a similar clear suggestion regarding reproductive health cannot be made to men, but the in vitro study with TCH suggests that it is wise to refrain from marijuana when a man tries to father a child. Further studies will likely clarify these outlines.

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Feb
01
2014

Early Alcohol Use Will Result In Memory Loss Later In Life

Researchers found that heavy alcohol use in males during midlife paves the way to memory loss from dementia later in life.

I thought that this would be a good topic to review the effect of alcohol in general. Alcohol is a known cell poison, yet cardiologists keep on referring to the beneficial effects of that 1 glass of wine per day that will prolong your life. I will attempt to explain these diverse effects, where small amounts are supposed to be good for you while high amounts can be very damaging.

Review of the effects of alcohol

50% of the world population drinks alcohol, 10% to 20% have chronic alcoholism (Ref.1).  Just recently a Guardian news study was released showing that an astounding 25% of Russian men die before reaching the age of 55, compared to only 7% of men in the United kingdom and less than 1% of men in the US. The study looked at the effects of consuming large amounts of vodka.  There are about 10 million chronic alcoholics in the US. Chronic alcohol consumption leads to 100,000 deaths every year in the US. More than 50% of these deaths are from traffic accidents, the rest from medical problems caused by alcohol (Ref.1). Most of the alcohol gets detoxified through the liver cells and is metabolized into acetaldehyde. This involves the cytochrome P-450 system. That means that when a person also takes narcotics, sedatives or psychoactive drugs that are also metabolized through this liver enzyme system drugs and alcohol are taking much longer to be metabolized. This can lead to lethal overdoses that we hear about on TV all the time, hence the warning that you must not mix alcohol with drugs.

Early Alcohol Use Will Result In Memory Loss Later In Life

Early Alcohol Use Will Result In Memory Loss Later In Life

Alcohol is a cell and nerve poison. The most vulnerable organs in the body are the liver, brain, heart, pancreas, bone marrow and stomach. So, here are a number of conditions caused by drinking alcohol:

a)    Anemia: When a person drinks heavily and regularly anemia shows up in a blood test. Alcohol has a toxic effect on the bone marrow, which interferes with the production of red blood cells. But certain vitamins required by the bone marrow to manufacture red blood cells are often also missing in the diet of an alcoholic, which contributes to anemia as well.

b)    Cirrhosis of the liver develops in 10% to 20% of heavy drinkers. With cirrhosis part of the liver cells get replaced by fibrotic tissue and in advanced cases this can lead to a hepatic coma and death. Others are developing alcoholic hepatitis. This is an inflammation of the liver with fever and jaundice where the skin and eyeballs turn yellow. It is associated with severe abdominal pain.

c)    Gastritis: Alcoholic gastritis is common, but often undetected. The affected individual may just have stomach pains for a few days, or vomit food and/or blood in addition. With continued use of alcohol it may turn chronic. Alcoholic gastritis can turn into gastric ulcers with massive bleeding that often lead to death.

d)    Pancreatitis: The pancreas is a particularly vulnerable glandular tissue, which gets damaged by regular alcohol intake and with chronic alcohol intake gets partially replaced by fibrotic tissue causing the feared and painful chronic pancreatitis. This is a condition with vomiting and severe abdominal pains that can be unrelenting.

e)    High blood pressure, seizures, dementia, depression, heart irregularities and nerve damage:

You may ask yourself how all of these conditions would be reasonably under one heading. The heading for this is “nerve damage”. Let me explain: The sympathetic nerve is very sensitive to alcohol toxicity and when the sympathetic nerve fibers are damaged, you will develop high blood pressure. You see your physician, get blood pressure medication, but the pressure is difficult to control, if you continue to drink alcoholic beverages. It does not make sense to just add blood pressure pills and hope that this will cure your problem. Seizures are due to direct nerve damage in the more sensitive parts of the brain, which will cause these areas to produce extra electrical activities, which we call seizures. Again, just treating with anti-seizure medications is not the solution. Avoidance of alcohol is the other part of the treatment schedule. Dementia from heavy alcohol use is due to direct nerve atrophy in the brain. Our brain shrinks normally 1.9% to 2.8% per decade, depending on which research papers you read. But in the presence of heavy drinking the frontal lobe of the brain is particularly vulnerable to brain shrinkage.

As this publication shows, mild and moderate drinkers did not suffer more frontal lobe shrinkage than abstainers, but heavy drinkers had a 1.8-fold higher risk of frontal lobe shrinkage on average when compared to abstainers. It was calculated that alcohol had contributed 11.3% to that frontal lobe shrinkage.

The rest of the toxic effect on the nerve tissue explains why depression would develop. The frontal brain contains most of the serotonin producing nerve cells. When serotonin-producing nerve fibers get damaged, the body does not produce enough serotonin to prevent depression from setting in; GABA producing cells often also get damaged, which causes anxiety. It’s not good enough to just prescribe anxiolytic drugs to which the patient will get addicted. The whole person needs to be treated, and abstinence from alcohol has to be part of the program.

Heart irregularities (atrial fibrillation, ventricular fibrillation) can be life-threatening complications due to the toxic effect of alcohol on the nerve fibers within the heart muscle. Emergency physicians are aware of the connection of these conditions to alcohol consumption. Some people’s hearts are more sensitive to the effects of alcohol than others. The most common cause of temporary atrial fibrillation is excessive alcohol intake (holiday heart) according to Ref. 2.

Finally there is the effect of alcohol on nerves in the body. This explains that heavy alcohol consumers can come down with painful pins-and-needles sensations in their hands and feet or with numbness or loss of muscle strength. When the parasympathetic nervous system is affected embarrassing incontinence or constipation can result. Erectile dysfunction in men is also very common. Viagra and continuing to drink is not the solution.

f)      Gout: This painful formation of uric acid crystals in joints can be precipitated in sensitive individuals by consuming alcohol in combination with eating large helpings of beef. There may be a history of gout in the family. Treatment for this is to refrain from alcohol and avoid foods that are leading to uric acid production when ingested.

g)    Cancer: When the body detoxifies alcohol in the liver, the breakdown product is acetaldehyde, which is a known cancer producing substance. A whole array of cancers are known, which come from heavy, chronic alcohol consumption: cancers in the mouth, larynx, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver and colorectal cancer have all been linked to excessive alcohol intake.

h)    Cardiovascular disease: heart attacks and strokes can be caused particularly by binging; it is thought that binging makes platelets from the blood more sticky so they clump together and cause blood clots, which in turn leads to heart attacks and strokes.

i)      Infections: Alcohol weakens the immune system, which is another effect on the bone marrow similar to causing anemia, except that this is the toxic effect on the white blood cells and lymphocytes. Heavy alcohol consumers are more prone to pneumonia, to HIV, sexually transmitted diseases, and tuberculosis.

Cardiology view of preventative alcohol

Despite all of these hair raising toxic effects cardiologists have painted the rosy picture that 1 glass of wine for women and 2 glasses of wine for men per day will prevent heart disease. What is the true story here?

Ref.2 points out that there are about 100 prospective studies that confirm that there is an inverse relationship between mild to moderate alcohol consumption and “heart attack, ischemic stroke, peripheral vascular disease, sudden cardiac death, and death from all cardiovascular causes”. It describes further that the reduction of risk in these various studies was persistent and consisted of a 20% to 45% risk reduction. Using blood tests investigators have found that this is because of an increase of HDL cholesterol, reducing blood clotting, making platelets less sticky and reducing inflammation as evidenced by a reduction of the C-reactive protein. Further research has pinpointed that it is the phenols and resveratrol that are contained in alcoholic beverages that are responsible for the beneficial effects. The bad news is that three glasses of wine or more do the opposite, so does binge drinking. Unless you are extremely disciplined and never increase your allowed limit (1 drink for women, 2 drinks for men) you will CAUSE heart disease rather than PREVENT it (Ref.2). Some people have a family history of breast cancer or colon cancer and they should avoid alcohol altogether; also people coming from alcoholic families should avoid alcohol.

Conclusion

Where does this leave us with regard to prevention of heart attacks, strokes and hardening of the arteries in the legs (peripheral vascular disease)? If you are disciplined and stick to the limits, you could prevent 20% to 45% of cardiovascular risk. The brain study mentioned in the beginning of the blog would also confirm that there was no difference between dementia or brain shrinkage when mild to moderate drinkers were compared to abstainers over 10 years. What is not told by the wine industry is that the same effects that prevent cardiovascular disease in mild to moderate drinkers can also be achieved by natural means: exercising regularly will raise your protective HDL cholesterol; taking ginkgo biloba, flax seed and omega-3 fatty acids thins your blood and the platelets are getting less sticky; omega-3 reduces inflammation and resveratrol elongates telomeres making you live longer. At the A4M conference in Las Vegas in December 2011 there were three speakers who pointed out that even small amounts of alcohol will poison mitochondria of your cells and interfere with normal hormone action. This was enough to make me join those who abstain alcohol completely. One thing has not yet been investigated in long-term studies, namely how small effects of alcohol may affect the body over several decades and over an entire lifetime. Despite all the promises of interest groups that red wine is a trendy drink for those interested in heart health, the fundamental long-term studies are missing. What does a guy do with a healthy heart and a brain that is not functioning too well? I just do not want to be the guinea pig in that worldwide study.

More information on alcoholism: http://nethealthbook.com/drug-addiction/alcoholism/

References:

  1. Kumar: Robbins and Cotran: Pathologic Basis of Disease, Professional Edition, 8th ed. © 2009 Saunders
  2. Bonow: Braunwald’s Heart Disease – A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine, 9th ed. © 2011 Saunders

Last edited Nov. 7, 2014