Does Smoking Weed Affect Sperm? Here’s What a Men’s Infertility Doctor Says

Updated: Jul. 03, 2024

Infertility is on the rise, and so is marijuana use. Experts, including Cleveland Clinic urologist with a concentration in male fertility, speak to the possible association.

According to data via the Cleveland Clinic, infertility impacts 186 million people worldwide, with the male partner contributing to half of these cases. Research indicates that 10% to 15% of American men trying to conceive experience issues related to male infertility.

Additionally, a 2023 Gallup survey reveals that 19% of American men reported smoking marijuana. The potential effects of marijuana on male fertility are becoming a focal point: Is there a connection between the two, and how well do we understand its impact on our most hopeful life plans—like starting a family?

“Research has shown that smoking marijuana can impact several aspects of male reproductive health, such as sperm count, motility, and morphology,” says Neel Parekh, MD, a board-certified urologist and male infertility and men’s health specialist in the Department of Urology at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. Dr. Parekh adds that marijuana use is also linked to hormonal changes, including decreased testosterone levels, which are essential for healthy sperm production. Although evidence of these effects exists, their clinical significance may differ among individuals, and further research is necessary to understand the long-term effects of marijuana use fully.

Ahead, we share expert insights and what current research says on the relationship between smoking marijuana and fertility issues.

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Does smoking weed affect sperm quantity?

A key fertility metric is sperm count, which, according to the Mayo Clinic, should be at least 15 million sperm per milliliter of semen for a good chance at conception. Counts below 15 million per milliliter or less than 39 million sperm total per ejaculate are considered low and can hinder conception.

Research suggests a troubling link between cannabis use and decreased sperm count. The extent of this impact seems closely tied to the frequency and duration of marijuana use. Dr. Parekh notes, “Heavier and more frequent use tends to be associated with greater reductions in sperm concentration.”

This observation is supported by a 2015 study conducted in Denmark, which included 1,215 men and found that regular marijuana users (those who smoked more than once a week) had sperm counts that were 29% lower than men who had never used marijuana.

Does smoking weed affect sperm quality?

It’s important to know that sperm quality isn’t just about the numbers; it also encompasses motility, morphology, and viability—the movement and shape of sperm and how long sperm actually live—which are all essential to fertility.

A 2021 study conducted by Marah Hehemann, MD and Omer Raheem, MD, both board-certified urologists specializing in men’s sexual health and male infertility research, brought to light how marijuana affects these vital aspects of sperm health. Their research involved 409 young men undergoing infertility evaluations and showed that both current and former marijuana users exhibited significantly poorer sperm shape and volume compared to non-users.

One of the key findings was the role of CBD (cannabidiol), a component of marijuana, which binds to receptors on sperm cells, altering their structure and how they function. This interaction can hinder the sperm’s ability to fertilize an egg, potentially decreasing fertility rates among marijuana users. What’s particularly concerning is that the negative impacts on sperm function were observed in both current and past users, indicating that the effects of marijuana on male fertility might be long-lasting.

Furthermore, a 2019 systematic review published in the Journal of Urology—the official journal of the American Urological Association—echoes these concerns. The review details how, beyond affecting sperm count and shape, marijuana use is also associated with decreased sperm motility and viability.

Can smoking weed cause birth defects?

The potential impact of paternal marijuana use on birth defects remains a subject of ongoing research and debate. Dr. Parekh explains that although some research suggests marijuana might increase DNA fragmentation in sperm—potentially compromising the genetic integrity and leading to fertility problems—there is no direct evidence linking it to birth defects. “There is limited direct evidence linking paternal marijuana use to birth defects, but the potential for genetic and epigenetic changes in sperm suggests a possible risk,” says Dr. Parekh. He stresses the importance of further research to determine a clear causal link.

The effects of maternal marijuana use during pregnancy are better understood and show more direct consequences. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the psychoactive component of marijuana, crosses the placenta and can influence fetal development. There is substantial evidence that maternal marijuana use is associated with several adverse outcomes, including lower birth weight, preterm birth, and long-term developmental challenges such as impaired cognitive function and behavioral issues in children.

How long after quitting weed does male fertility improve?

“Spermatogenesis, or the process of making new sperm, takes about three months,” Dr. Parekh says. “So any changes [patients] make, such as ceasing marijuana use, will take at least three months before some improvement in sperm quality could occur.” He adds that the timeline for recovery in male fertility after quitting marijuana varies from person to person.

For those who have been long-term or heavy users, the recovery period may extend further, sometimes up to a year, to observe significant improvements in sperm quality.

How to improve sperm health

While there are mixed messages about the effects of smoking marijuana, it’s important to be aware of the potential risks, adopt healthier habits, and lean on support when needed.

Dr. Parekh offers guidance for those finding it tough to quit: “For individuals hesitant to quit marijuana, I recommend support groups, discussing with your partner, or counseling. Also, meeting with a male fertility specialist can help educate patients on the potential risks and provide personalized advice.” He also emphasizes the importance of supporting overall health with a balanced diet, regular exercise, and effective stress management to improve fertility.

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