Marijuana has been the topic of much recent debate across the United States, and its legalization has undoubtedly gained some ground. Almost all states in the US have legalized marijuana in some capacity, whether it be for medicinal or recreational purposes which could have a positive effect on both medicine and the economy.
Cannabis has provided some relief for patients suffering from various sicknesses like chronic pain, depression, PTSD, anxiety, and even HIV/AIDs and cancers. As the use of marijuana becomes decreasingly taboo, it is in the interest of public health that we conduct extensive research on all of the effects it may have on a person if it were ever to be completely normalized in our society for every day (legal) use.
Marijuana use does come with some side effects and risks. It can increase heart rate, potentially increase the effects of mental illness, and may impair judgment. However, not much is known about how the use of cannabis can affect the reproductive health of both men and women, or how it can affect the offspring of cannabis-using parents.
According to a recent study out of Duke Health, heavy marijuana use may epigenetically alter a man’s sperm, and could potentially affect the children they conceive. As we know, a father’s exposure to phthalates as well as past trauma, diet, and nicotine use can epigenetically alter his sperm, but it turns out that increased exposure to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana, can cause changes in structure and regulation of the DNA in sperm.
In this study published in Epigenetics, the research team led by Dr. Susan K. Murphy focused their efforts on determining the epigenetic effect that THC may have on the regulation of DNA Hippo Signaling, and Pathways in Cancer, both of which are crucial to normal human development.in two major cellular pathways:
DNA methylation is the epigenetic process of adding a methyl group to the DNA, which results in altered gene expression and often the silencing of a gene. Increased DNA methylation to certain genes is often a characteristic of cancers and other potential health issues, making it an important mechanism to concentrate on.
The team gave a group of sexually mature rats a dose of THC every day for 12 days. The amount of THC they received was equivalent to what a causal human user would experience daily.
These rats were found to have experienced altered methylation patterns in more than 600 different genes, some of them associated with those two pathways, resulting in motility and structural issues for the sperm.
Reference: Samiha Khanna “Exposure to Cannabis Alters the Genetic Profile of Sperm” Duke Health News & Media 9 January 2019 Web.