Does marijuana impact men’s fertility and sexual health?

Dr. Raheem and Dr. Cohen
Omer Raheem, MD, left, and Ronald Cohen, MD

With a nationwide boom in marijuana use — in Illinois alone, sales of recreational adult-use marijuana topped $1.3 billion in 2021 — more scientific studies are being done to examine marijuana’s health effects.

One of the first to examine marijuana’s impact on semen quality and male fertility was authored by University of Chicago Medicine urologist male fertility. The data showed current or past marijuana users had more damaged sperm, lower sperm counts and reduced semen volume.

Many questions remain unanswered and more studies are needed. But marijuana’s effects on sexual health is one of many topics men can discuss in a private setting at UChicago Medicine’s new Men’s Wellness Clinic, opening April 21 at the Ronald N. Cohen, MD. The team includes many other specialized UChicago Medicine physicians and providers.

We spoke with Raheem about his study and about what the new downtown Men’s Wellness Clinic offers to men of all ages.

What did your study find about marijuana’s impact on male fertility?

In the study of 409 young male patients seeking an infertility evaluation, we found that a certain part of the marijuana compound (CBD) had affinity to latch or bind to receptors on the sperm’s structure, altering its shape and function, which can ultimately decrease fertility in men. Interestingly, the negative impact on sperm function was seen in both current and past marijuana users. We don’t know how long men need to stop using marijuana — a week? a month? — in order to reverse sperm function. So, more studies are warranted to determine if marijuana’s affects are long-lasting.

Does marijuana affect sperm count?

Yes. According to the data in this study, marijuana decreased the volume of semen, sperm count and altered the sperm’s shape.

What are the benefits of smoking marijuana?

There is a lot of conflicting data about marijuana’s impact on health, some positive and some negative. But what we’ve seen so far is that it provides some benefits for people with chronic pain issues, drug abuse, nausea, anxiety and depression.

If men struggling with infertility are smoking marijuana, should they stop?

When men come and see me, they’re typically trying to have a baby with their partner. I look at environmental factors, including marijuana use. If they’re smoking marijuana, I’d say “Stop. Let’s try to maximize your sperm health and function.” I believe marijuana has a negative impact, even though the data is not robust at this point.

What does UChicago Medicine’s new Men’s Health and Wellness Clinic offer?

To provide inclusive, compassionate and high-quality care for all men. It will help connect men to highly specialized doctors — urologists, cardiologists, endocrinologists, sleep medicine, weight loss specialists, physical therapists, psychiatrists and more — to provide a more holistic, comprehensive approach to problems.

Is the clinic good for busy men?

Yes. They can have tests done and see multiple doctors all in one place, on the same day. For example, they could meet with me (a urologist), and then have an EKG done and then meet with a cardiologist. We can try to schedule multiple clinical appointments on the same day to make the most efficient use of their time.

What help do you offer men with erectile dysfunction or fertility problems?

Issues like erectile dysfunction or fertility problems are often sensitive and difficult for men to talk about, but we at the Men’s Wellness Clinic offer a private and safe environment where men can share their concerns and we can thoroughly evaluate and treat the problem. Often, men’s health-related issues like erectile dysfunction (ED) or male infertility are caused by underlying medical issues, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, that need to be evaluated and treated first. ED or infertility is often linked to serious medical conditions that men might not know they have.

Are you expecting to do more studies on marijuana and men’s fertility?

Absolutely. We need to look at it systematically and at a national level, using a bigger, more robust pool of data. When tobacco became popular in the 1950s and '60s, there were some early studies that showed a harmful connection to bladder cancer. Now, decades later, we know that tobacco use can increase the chances of bladder cancer tenfold compared with other types of cancer.

Omer Raheem, MD, urologist

Omer Raheem, MD

Omer Raheem, MD, is a board-certified urologist specializing in men’s sexual health and male infertility. Dr. Raheem leads the Men's Wellness Clinic at UChicago Medicine River East.

View Dr. Raheem's physician bio

Men's Wellness Clinic at UChicago Medicine River East