If you’re a man in a heterosexual partnership and kids are on your mind, drop the pot.
Marijuana may seem relatively harmless. It’s not without repercussions, however. According to a study done by researchers at Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina, Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive compound found in marijuana, alters your genes.
And when it comes to men, the drug triggers structural and regulatory changes in the DNA of the users’ sperm. It also may impact the children being conceived down the road, the study found.
Experiments were done on rats, and about 24 volunteer men. THC appears to target genes in two major cellular pathways, altering DNA methylation, a process essential to normal development. The findings were published in the journal Epigenetics in December.
“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 Scott Kollins, Ph.D., professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke and senior author of the study.
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“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 said.
One of the pathways targeted by the drug is involved in helping bodily organs reach their full size. The other, experts say, involves a large number of genes that regulate growth during development. Both pathways can become dysregulated in some cancers.
“In the absence of a larger, definitive study, the best advice would be to assume these changes are going to be there,” said lead author Susan K. Murphy, Ph.D., associate professor and chief of the Division of Reproductive Sciences in obstetrics and gynecology at Duke. “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.”
For more on this study, click here.