birth defects

Does marijuana cause infertility?

Marijuana and fertility: Princeton IVF blog
Marijuana effects on fertility and pregnancy

All across the country, and likely soon in our state of New Jersey, recreational marijuana us is likely to become legal in more and more places. That means that more couples than ever who are trying to conceive will be users. If you are one of them, should you be concerned?

Here is what we know now:

Does marijuana affect a woman’s fertility?

We know that pot can affect a women’s hormones and her menstrual cycle. Ovulation problems which are related to hormone imbalances are a very common cause for female infertility.

Does marijuana affect a man’s fertility?

The main test fertility doctors use to diagnose male infertility is a semen analysis. We have known for some time that marijuana can have an adverse effect on the most important things we check for in a semen analysis, the number of sperm present (the count), how well they are swimming (motility) and the percent of the sperm that are normally shaped (morphology). We also know that exposure to active ingredient in marijuana THC can cause the breakage of chromosomes and abnormalities in a methylation, a natural chemical process which is responsible for how the genetic material is expressed in the body. Again, we do not know if this directly harmful to a man’s ability to father children or may affect the health of those children.

Is marijuana safe for my baby once I am pregnant?

If you believe the studies in animals, marijuana is not safe for pregnant moms to take. Rats whose mothers were exposed to marijuana in utero were more likely to have cognitive and memory problems in multiple studies. We do not know if this is the case in humans though. Keep in mind that a century ago, alcohol was thought to be safe in pregnancy and it was even used by doctors as a treatment for premature labor. We know now that alcohol causes very specific and severe birth defects when taken during pregnancy.

Is marijuana safe to take when I am breastfeeding?

THC can be found in the breast milk for days after use. Whether this poses any risk to a newborn is not known.

What about extracts that are sold at dispensaries?

No one knows for sure if these preparations are more safe or less safe than whole marijuana smoked or eaten.

So, do I need to be concerned?

No one can say definitively that marijuana use is dangerous during pregnancy nor can it be said to be definitively safe. There are however lots of red flags that raise concern. Most prudent doctors will advise that you and your partner consider avoiding pot if a baby is in your near future

Should I stop alcohol before pregnancy?

Moderate alcohol does not harm fertility but not safe during pregnancy.

Many women stop all alcohol when starting to attempt pregnancy, but does it really help?

Probably not. Research suggests that moderate alcohol intake will likely not harm your fertility.

Before we go any further, this means prior to pregnancy. No one including your doctor or midwife can reassure you that alcohol is safe to take in any amount during pregnancy, and that includes the week that you are pregnant before the pregnancy test comes out positive.

Anyhow, getting back to the story, researchers in Denmark compared a group of women who more moderate drinkers (between 1 and 14 glasses of wine per week) to another group of women who did not drink at all while attempting pregnancy. The researchers did not find any difference in the chances for pregnancy between the 2 groups. The same was not true for heavier drinkers. Those who drank the equivalent of 2 bottles of wine per week or more were actually less likely to conceive.

So what this mean for drinking alcohol when trying to conceive?

According this study, light to moderate alcohol likely does not affect your chances of having a baby, but heavy alcohol consumption likely does.

Can I drink when I'm trying to get pregnant?

In moderation, alcohol consumption before a pregnancy implants in the uterus is fine.  A pregnancy implants about a week before you expect your period, and it is impossible to say if it is safe to drink from that time on.

What about alcohol during the rest of pregnancy?

Heavy and moderate alcohol are well known to cause serious birth defects. Ask your doctor or midwife. They will almost certainly agree.It is not clear whether have an occasional glass of wine will increase your risk of birth defects or not. In the absence of information to reassure our patients, most of obstetricians and midwives will advise against it.

Abnormal sperm and healthy babies

The advent of ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) two decades ago has enabled men with very low sperm counts to father children through IVF.  Prior to this, as fertility specialists, we could offer these couples only donor sperm. Despite this "miracle" of modern medicine, one of the lingering concerns was as to whether using sperm from men with very low counts might lead to a more birth defects. Adding to this concern, were some studies suggesting that ICSI or even regular IVF might result in a higher than normal rate of abnormalities. Some good news, however.  A recent study from the NIH suggests that this is not a concern. The researchers found that  couples who conceived with very low sperm counts did not have children with more birth defects.