According to a new study, smoking weed could alter certain genetic traits in sperm. So far, researchers do not know how far-reaching or permanent these changes are. Similarly, they do not know if these changes will affect a weed-smoker’s offspring.
Does THC Affect Sperm?
The new study was completed by scientists at Duke Health. It was published yesterday in the journal Epigenetics.
In the study, researchers looked at two groups. One group was classified as regular users. More specifically, those in this group had consumed cannabis at least once a week for the past six months.
In contrast to this group, the second group was comprised of people who had not consumed weed at all in the previous six months. Further, those in this group had not consumed marijuana more than 10 times in their entire lifetime.
The study analyzed and compared sperm from both groups. The primary finding was that those with a higher concentration of THC in their urine showed more significant genetic changes in their sperm.
Researchers reported that high THC was associated with changes in hundreds of different genes. Interestingly, these individual genes are all part of two primary “cellular pathways.”
One of these pathways has to do with the way genes trigger organ growth. In particular, the genes in this pathway help ensure that bodily organs develop to their full size. The second main cellular pathway has to do with regulating growth as a person grows up and develops.
Raising New Questions
This particular study only went so far as to identify that THC appeared to be correlated to a number of potential genetic changes in sperm. Now, this finding has opened up a number of new questions.
For starters, researchers are now wondering if these genetic changes are permanent. More specifically, it’s unclear if taking a break from smoking weed will reset any of those changes.
Similarly, researchers are interested to see if these genetic changes impact reproduction. Specifically, if these changes are passed along to offspring.
“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,” researcher Scott Kollins said in a statement.
“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.”
According to Kollins and other researchers, this study was just the first of many to come. Future research will likely try to isolate THC further, to be absolutely sure that’s the variable responsible for the genetic changes.
Additionally, other research will likely focus on determining how these changes affect a person’s children. In particular, researchers involved with this project said they want to study umbilical cord blood to see if it shows the same epigenetic changes seen in a weed-smoker’s sperm.
“In terms of what it means for the developing child, we just don’t know,” researcher Susan K. Murphy said. “We know that there are effects of cannabis use on the regulatory mechanisms in sperm DNA, but we don’t know whether they can be transmitted to the next generation.”