A new study has found that smoking marijuana can cause genetic changes in sperm. However, researchers have yet to understand whether these changes have any effect and if it is passed on to the children of users.
A team from Duke University conducted a study on 24 male participants. Male marijuana users were compared with men who had not used it. The findings showed a psychoactive ingredient in marijuana called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) affects genes that are essential to the process of normal development.
"What we have found is that the effects of cannabis use on males and their reproductive health are not completely null, in that there's something about cannabis use that affects the genetic profile in sperm," said study author Scott Kollins. "We don't yet know what that means, but the fact that more and more young males of child-bearing age have legal access to cannabis is something we should be thinking about," Kollins further went on to explain.
Researchers also found the higher the concentration of THC in the men's urine made more changes in the sperm. While THC was found to affect hundreds of various genes, many of them had a link to two cellular pathways. One plays a role in growing organs to their full size, while the other aids growth development.
"In terms of what it means for the developing child, we just don't know," said Susan Murphy, who is chief of the division of reproductive sciences in obstetrics and gynaecology at Duke University.
Researchers now hope to explore which genetic changes are passed on to children and if these changes can be reversed.
Until more is known, scientists urge men trying to have children to avoid pot. "In the absence of a larger, definitive study, the best advice would be to assume these changes are going to be there," said Murphy. Adding, "We don't know whether they are going to be permanent. I would say, as a precaution, stop using cannabis for at least six months before trying to conceive."