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Smoking Marijuana Lowers Fertility

Sperm Burn Out, Less Potent When Men -- or Women -- Smoke Marijuana
By
WebMD Health News

Oct. 13, 2003 -- Smoking marijuana makes sperm less fertile -- even if the woman is the one who smokes it, a new study shows.

Marijuana-smoking college men volunteered for the study led by Lani J. Burkman, PhD, director of andrology at the University of Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

The smokers weren't the only ones who got high. The drug affected their sperm, too. These stoned sperm party hard. And then? They burn out, researchers say.

"Marijuana-smoking men's sperm are hyper. They are way out there," Burkman tells WebMD. "They already have begun the vigorous swimming called hyperactivation. Sperm should be quiet at first. They should be waiting to be washed into cervix and approach the egg before they start hyperactivation."

So the little guys are fast out of the gate, right? What's wrong with a little head start?

"It is not a head start. They are going to blow it," Burkman says. "They're too fast, too early. Each individual sperm can maintain this swimming only so long, only several hours. Then it poops out. If it has run out of hyperactivation before it gets close to the egg, it will not fertilize. These sperm are going to burn out."

Burkman announced the findings at this week's meeting of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine.

Marijuana and Fertility Timing

When it comes to romance, timing is everything. That holds true for fertility, too, says Celia E. Dominguez, MD, of the Center for Reproductive Medicine at Emory University, Atlanta.

"The reason men have millions of sperm is because the fertility process is more difficult than people think," Dominguez tells WebMD. "The whole process of ascending up the tract to the fallopian tubes and then finding the egg is delicately balanced."

As the sperm approaches the egg, it receives a signal to start swimming -- hard. This hyperactivation lets it push through the egg cover. Pooped out sperm don't have a chance.

Of course, men who smoke marijuana do get women pregnant. But some men are more fertile than others, or are more fertile at different times of their lives. Smoking marijuana, Burkman warns, will make a borderline-infertile man frankly infertile.

"The marijuana-smoking men had significantly lower semen volume," Burkman says. "Many had pretty low volume, about half the male norm. If they came to our clinic as patients, we'd tell them they are abnormal. ... They are delivering significantly fewer sperm to the female when they have sexual intercourse."

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