Friday Weird Science: Cannabis and sperm, gettin the semen high

Jun 15 2012 Published by under Friday Weird Science

...or rather, getting them SLOOOOW.

Two weeks ago I covered a study on cannabis coming for mouse sperm. But that's mice, not humans, and most of it was in a dish. So what does it mean for PEOPLE? After all, mice don't spend most of their time mating on weed, while humans...well we DO spend a lot of time mating, and some spend a lot of time on weed, so that's got to intersect somewhere.

And here's where it does!

Whan et al. "Effects of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the primary psychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana, on human sperm function in vitro" Fertility and Sterility, 2006.

(Human sperm under a microscope! Cool, eh?)

It's easy to wonder why, exactly, you'd want to look at effects of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (d-9-THC), the active ingredient in marijuana, and why it affects sperm. I mean, all sorts of other things, sure, but sperm? Why should we care?!

But it turns out that the human reproductive system could be much more sensitive to the cannabinoid class of drugs than you might think. There are receptors that d-9-THC can hit (cannabinoid receptors) in the male sperm and testes, and in the female uterus (though no one ever seems to investigate females for this kind of thing). And this, combined with the high rates of at least occasional marijuana use, means that people want to know what effect cannabis has on your semen.

Also, semen on drugs. I mean, that's kind of awesome.

This is your sperm.

And this is your sperm on DRUGS!!!

And this study has something even better going for it: computer assisted semen analysis. Yes. This makes me think of some sort of bizarre Japanese robotic sperm donation center or something.

Anyway, the authors of this study wanted to look at your semen getting high. So they collected semen in the usual manner. This usually means asking people at the fertility clinic for an extra sample from people who turned out normal. Just a few minutes in the bathroom with a laptop and a cup!

When the semen comes out, the scientists spin it down in a centrifuge, to separate out the sperm from the other bits. Put it in a dish, added some THC (recreational and therapeutic concentrations), and had the computer look at the sperm function.

You can see here that there's a dose dependent reduction in sperm motility, the little guys swam slower in the presence of THC.

They also looked at the effect of THC on the acrosome reaction, where sperm open up the caps at their tips to release enzymes and break into the egg. Again they saw dose dependent decreases in acrosome reaction. From this, they conclude that cannabis might be bad for male fertility.

Me, I'm not so sure. Sperm in a dish are not sperm in your junk, and THC applied in a dish is not THC coming in slowly through bloodstream exposure. And the decreases at the lower doses? They are pretty small.

There's also other stuff about sperm that isn't accounted for. For example, what happens when THC goes away? Do the sperm recover? Sperm normally turns over every 60 days or so. So what about long term?

And then of course, there's the really important question: when you're on you really feel like testing your swimmers? Most people probably aren't actively trying to successfully reproduce while high. So what we REALLY need to look at are the effects of cannabis use on your sperm AFTERWARD. And this study doesn't look at that.

So I can't tell you whether cannabis smoking affects your sperm. What I can tell you? Don't put THC on your sperm in a dish. It makes them lazy.

Whan, L., West, M., McClure, N., & Lewis, S. (2006). Effects of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the primary psychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana, on human sperm function in vitro Fertility and Sterility, 85 (3), 653-660 DOI: 10.1016/j.fertnstert.2005.08.027

17 responses so far

  • anon says:

    "Sperm in a dish are not sperm in your junk" - nor are they sperm at the cervix, where they need to get through tissue, mucous, immune cell attacks, etc. They have an easier time in the dish, and one would expect that THC effects may be amplified in vivo. I am curious as to whether a THC antagonist can make them swim FASTER or somehow improve motility and chances of fertilization.

    • Hemp Share says:

      NEXT: Start reporting on the 199 or so MEDICINES IN POT THAT ARE NOT PSYCHOACTIVE. With nearly 100 non-psychoactive cannabinolic acids, and nearly 99 non-psychoactive Cannabinoids why don't we lift Adult Prohibition , and require a Prescription for Minors to Decarboxylate THCA into THC. Then the politicians can go back to lying about something else, and the classist racist can continue reelecting them. Anything short of this will maintain the divide of Intelligent, Unintelligent, and Racist LIARS into three (3) distinct groups in our country.

  • Isabel says:

    "Most people probably aren't actively trying to successfully reproduce while high. "

    Huh? Do you have any experience or knowledge to back this up or are we back in "it's cannabis so we just make shit up mode"?

    Have you ever tried Cannabis, Sci?

    • Lysabyst says:

      Cutting out alcohol, tobacco and even caffeine are common methods of trying to increase fertility, its highly unlikely people would continue to use cannabis.

    • Little Elliot says:

      Are you implying that active cannabis users are disproportionately more interested in procreation compared to the general population? Because I'm pretty sure that most sexual encounters (whether involving high participants or not) are not deliberately intended for procreation.

      • Isabel says:

        Yes, I get that now (see my comment below) -but I still think the wording, especially considering the preceding sentence "when you're on you really feel like testing your swimmers?", encourages my first interpretation.

      • a(she) says:

        i for one love to smoke, and whether using or not using doesnt change my mind on procreation ; this to me sounds like YET ANOTHER imfamous study from thee ocult penguins in a huddle mocking you outside the hospital pt door 😉

  • drugmonkey says:

    Have you ever tried Cannabis, Sci?

    If the answer is "yes" from someone who disagrees with you about how awesomez pot is, would this make one iota of a smidgen of a difference in your ability to hear what they are saying?

    Or would you pull out the "No True Scotsman" defense and still insist everyone except you is in "make shit up mode" at all times?

  • Isabel says:

    Well, I may take that back if Sci just meant it re "actively reproducing", not having sex (most people having sex are not actively trying to reproduce anyway). But I don't think it was clear from the wording; it sounded like she was implying that they are not trying to do anything much at all while they are high, which is a misconception. Because in fact many people intentionally smoke before sex as it intensifies pleasure or whatever.

    btw have you ever tried it, DM? It's just that you guys seem like such squares sometimes 🙂

  • Isabel says:

    In fact, thinking about it, if a couple regularly use cannabis, AND they are trying to conceive, it's quite likely that they would partake before having sex.

  • Roo says:

    If you see the documentary "Super High Me" the participant in the experiment actually found his sperm count raise dramatically over the course of the experiment. Surely this study should have been mentioned.

  • Andreas Johansson says:

    Don't put THC on your sperm in a dish. It makes them lazy.

    If I've put my sperm in a dish, am I likely to care if they're lazy?

  • Anne O'Nymous says:

    I am trying to find a study that tells us how long the effects last after cannabis use. As you point out, noone seems to do these 🙁

  • ..h.. says:

    That's why we are so populated today

  • TED PO says:

    Bob Marley had 9 children I believe, so erthang is gonna be alright, right?

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