Marijuana could serve as a treatment option for male infertility, a new study published in The FASEB Journal found. The same type of receptors in the human brain and body that respond to cannabis (known as “CB2” receptors) are also responsible for regulating sperm, researchers discovered.
About 7 percent of men have male infertility, accounting for up to 50 percent of infertility cases overall. Drug treatment programs — including hormone replacement therapy — are available as potential treatment options, but their effectiveness isn’t guaranteed. Researchers behind the latest study hope their findings will lead to the development of medicines that chemically mimic the effects of cannabis.
How researchers made this discovery
To understand the role of the CB2 receptor in spermatogenesis (the production of sperm), the researchers introduced three agents to lab rats. One agent activated the receptor. Another suppressed the reception. A third, a saline drip, had a neutral effect and was administered to a control group.
Once the three ingredients were administered, the lab rats were studied over the course of 14 to 21 days.
The group that received the “CB2 activator” experienced increased spermatogenesis.
“That the normal beneficial effects of endogenous cannabinoids on spermatogenesis can be stimulated further by a chemical mimic, an agonist, is a potentially promising new idea for treating male infertility,” Thoru Pederson, editor in chief of The FASEB Journal, said in a press release.
There are conflicting studies on the effects of marijuana on male fertility, including a 2015 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology that showed that male use of cannabis was associated with a 28 percent reduction in sperm count. That might be because cannabis has a disruptive effect on male fertility for men with otherwise healthy spermatogenesis, as earlier research suggested.