When Trying to Conceive, Men and Women Should Just Say No to Marijuana
However you feel about marijuana, we know cannabis can have both good and bad effects on the body. Research has looked at the benefits of cannabis for chronic pain, for instance.
But what about fertility and the ability to get pregnant? On this point, the studies appear murky. We turned to the experts to talk about marijuana and getting pregnant. How does weed affect fertility? Are there circumstances where medical marijuana is beneficial to conception?
How marijuana affects fertility
Marijuana can delay or prevent ovulation from happening, according to Aimee Eyvazzadeh, M.D., M.P.H., a reproductive endocrinologist in California. It can also prevent an embryo from forming properly and implanting in the uterus.
Some sex hormones are made in the brain, but women in particular produce many of these hormones in the ovaries, said Rebecca Abraham, R.N.-B.S.N., founder of Acute on Chronic, an educational and advocacy site based in Evanston, Illinois. Abraham's research focuses on the integration of cannabis into healthcare systems.
Cannabis can cause estrogen and progesterone levels to decline, which in turn can cause a barrier to trying to conceive.
"We don't know the extent, but we do know cannabis does affect a lot of these hormones," Abraham said. "At the beginning of pregnancy, you need these hormones to do the right thing at the right time for implantation."
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, can slow the release of certain gonadotropins, such as luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), according to a 2016 report published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. These are the hormones that help eggs grow within the ovaries.
The luteal phase of the menstrual cycle happens after ovulation, when the body is preparing for a pregnancy. LH suppression in this phase can prevent proper amounts of progesterone from being made, which can result in early pregnancy losses.
The timing of getting pregnant
The time it takes to get pregnant may also be affected if you consume marijuana. However, like research in general on fertility and marijuana, there are conflicting results. A 2017 study suggested marijuana users take a little longer to get pregnant than participants who don't use marijuana. But a 2018 study from the National Survey of Family Growth showed no differences.
Marijuana and fertility treatments
The stakes are higher for fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF). While successful, IVF is also very expensive. With reduced sperm counts, affected embryo development and the increased risks for miscarriages, it's enough for fertility doctors like Eyvazzadeh to recommend skipping the weed during this time.
Abraham added that cannabis has many drug interactions. Cannabis might speed up, slow down or stop your metabolism. This affects how much you absorb medication into your system. IVF medications may not work as well if you are also taking marijuana.
Men's fertility is also impacted by marijuana
Your male partner isn't off the hook for getting pregnant. Marijuana can cause issues with sex drive and erectile dysfunction (ED)—not good things when you're trying to make a baby. Consuming marijuana more than once a week can lower sperm counts and decrease the swimming ability of sperm due to their abnormal form, Eyvazzadeh said.
"The reason why pot alters sperm count is not totally clear yet, but it is believed that the cause is linked to interactions between receptors in the testes and THC," she explained.
Is there a good time to mix marijuana and attempts to conceive?
"OB-GYNs should do their best to avoid suggesting or prescribing the use of marijuana for medicinal reasons for couples that are [trying to conceive]," Eyvazzadeh advised.
There's no hard proof indicating that marijuana is beneficial during this time. She recommended staying away from medical marijuana for nausea, vomiting, anxiety and pain during pregnancy, and talking with your doctor about alternatives.
Abraham said, yes, cannabis might be acceptable in rare circumstances when you're trying to conceive, but it's always best to have a discussion with your doctor.
"We don't really think about women who have severe, life-threatening chronic illnesses in the setting of trying to conceive and pregnancy, but they're out there," Abraham said. "Women who are in a precarious position of having a severe chronic illness, undergoing cancer treatment, or the difficult cases of women who are on hospice and also pregnant, that might be a time to talk to your doctor."
For everyone else, the bottom line seems to be: When you're trying to get pregnant, it's best to avoid marijuana.
"The impact of THC on our genes can stay for good," Eyvazzadeh said. "Making the choice to abstain from marijuana when [trying to conceive] is one of the smartest things you can do to prevent health risks during conception and beyond."