What Is Marijuana?
Marijuana is comprised of a mixture of dried flowers, leaves, stems and seeds of the hemp plant, cannabis sativa or cannabis indica, that grows in warm climates throughout the world. Marijuana is referred to by many names, some of which include cannabis, weed, pot, dope, ganja, dank, herb, and many others. While the drug preparation and storage greatly affects its level of potency, it usually contains several hundred active chemicals. Of these many chemicals, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the one credited as having the greatest affect on the user.
THC produces a variety of stimulant, depressant, and hallucinogenic effects. Users report a range of feelings while under the influence of the drug, varying from joy and relaxation, to suspicion and irritation. Most people who use cannabis grind up this plant and smoke it, however is it also possible to mix it into food, brew it into tea, or inhale it via a vaporizor.
Effects on the Body
There is a mixture of both appealing and adverse physical effects that accompany the use of marijuana. The "high" produced by marijuana causes physical changes such as reddening of the eyes, fast heartbeat, increased blood pressure, dry mouth, dizziness, and increased appetite. Despite its high intoxication potential, it has a low dependency (or addictive) potential and low risk of organ damage or death. Cannabis use causes the release of the brain chemical dopamine, which induces a feeling of euphoria on the user. Marijuana users report elevated feelings of happiness, relaxation, relief from pain and anxiety, as well as other potential remedies to physical ailments. However, there are also a number of adverse effects as well. It may disrupt the storage of short-term memories and it may have negative effects on long-term memory for heavy users. Using marijuana with exceptionally high potencies is associated with much higher risks. High levels of THC can cause panic attacks, similar to those produced by hallucinogenic drugs. Furthermore, exposure to THC may trigger psychotic episodes in those who are already predisposed to a particular mental illness, such as schizophrenia. There are also indications that habitual marijuana smoking may lead to the same dangers that are associated with chronic tobacco smoking, such as lung disease or lung cancer.
Effects on Sexuality
For many people, part of the appeal of marijuana is its rumored aphrodisiac-like qualities. THC can elevate mood and arousal, as well as physically stimulating sexual activity. While this may be the case for many cannabis users, not all people who use this drug have such a positive reaction. Despite the fact that this substance has the ability to enhance mood and reduce inhibitions, much in the way that alcohol does, it may also have some undesired effects on a person’s libido. While some users feel that it greatly increases their sexual desire, others experience the opposite effect. Many report having a substantially decreased sexual drive when "stoned". Further, it can be difficult to arouse people under the influence. Many marijuana users find that they fall somewhere in between these two extremes; rather, they are sometimes aroused and other times disappointed with its sexual side effects. Users and their partners also experience a variety of reactions to using marijuana during intercourse. There are some that claim it fosters a greater bond between partners, stating that marijuana facilitates a more beautiful, open connection. However, some partners find that under the influence of cannabis they tend to lose focus or internalize their thoughts therefore emotionally distancing partners instead of bringing them closer. One reason that some people may report a heightened sense of sexuality is that marijuana often distorts users’ sense of time, thus, creating the illusion of prolonged arousal and orgasm. Furthermore, some argue that suggests an association of marijuana use with increased rates of high risk sexual behavior and sexually transmitted infections. This is due to marijuana’s ability to decrease inhibitions and make users less likely to use protection during intercourse.
Effects on Fertility and Pregnancy
Marijuana has the ability to affect both male and female fertility. However, since the illicit drug is outlawed by most societies around the world, research on the effects cannabis have been limited. However, there have been some studies conducted that have produced noteworthy correlations between marijuana use and its impact on fertility as well as fetal development.
A recent study conducted in 2015 by the Oxford University Press found that smoking marijuana more than once a week might lower males’ sperm count by nearly a third.3 Specifically, the men who smoked marijuana more than once a week had sperm counts that were 28% lower, on average, than those who smoked marijuana less frequently or not at all.2 Furthermore, the research suggests that while it is still unclear as to why males’ sperm count decreases, it is possible that this decrease can be contributed to the THC interacting, and subsequently disrupting, certain receptors in the testes.2 However, the researchers refrain from making the conclusion that the reduction in sperm count is solely due to the use of marijuana. They suggest that there may be other behavioral and lifestyle factors that can affect males’ sperm count and hormonal levels, which in turn may decrease fertility.
In 2003, a study from the University of Buffalo found that smoking marijuana could make sperm less fertile, even if the female is the one who is using the drug.1 When females smoke marijuana, their reproductive fluids or vaginal secretions may contain the chemicals from cannabis.1 The research suggests that when a female smokes or ingests marijuana, the THC is then present in the vagina, oviduct, and the uterus.1 So even if a male has not smoked but the female has, his sperm may enter her body, come in contact with the THC in her system, and subsequently be altered by the THC/sperm interaction.1
The Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute of the University of Washington suggests that marijuana use by females may affect their fertility by disrupting their menstrual cycle, which may result in fewer eggs being produced. Furthermore, they conclude that THC has the ability to cross through the placental barrier and secrete into the breastmilk of nursing mothers.4 Therefore, it is suggested that any pregnant or breastfeeding mother refrain from using marijuana. Furthermore, research shows that there may be major effects on the development and maturation of the fetal brain if a femal uses marijuana during pregnancy. While these findings are not conclusive, they do point out the risks of using marijuana and its impact on both male and female fertility.
1. Borreli, Lizette. "Your Pot Or Your Sperm Count? You Can Have One, But Not The Other." Medical Daily. N.p., 02 Sept. 2015. Web. 19 May 2016. <http://www.medicaldaily.com/effects-marijuana-smoking-pot-burns-out-sper....
2. Boxe, Agata. "Marijuana May Lower Your Sperm Counts Quite A Lot." Live Science. N.p., 28 Aug. 2015. Web. 19 May 2016. <http://www.livescience.com/52015-marijuana-lowers-sperm-counts.html>.
3. Gundersen, Tina D. et. al. (2015). Association Between Use of Marijuana and Male Reproductive Hormones and Semen Quality: A Study Among 1,215 Healthy Young Men. American Journal of Epidemiology: Vol. 182, No. 6
4. "Marijuana, Reproduction, and Pregnancy." Learn About Marijuana. University of Washington, n.d. Web. 19 May 2016. <http://learnaboutmarijuanawa.org/factsheets/reproduction.htm>.
Last Updated May 28, 2016