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Marijuana and Reactive Oxygen Species: Exploring Links Between Smoking and Fertility

November 28, 2018

Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are derivatives of oxygen that can be produced by both internal and external factors. Many studies have explored the effects of THC on fertility on both men and women, but the focus is often on THC itself. Now, studies show that despite the differing data on THC’s effects on fertility, other aspects of smoking could be generating ROS and affecting fertility through that mechanism instead. Read on to find out why THC’s effect on fertility is not the only factor to consider:

  • What are ROS and how do they affect the body?
  • What are the current links between marijuana and ROS?
  • How can these concerns be addressed through certain lifestyle alterations?

ROS & the Body

Reactive oxygen species (ROS) can affect the body in many ways. ROS are radical derivatives of oxygen that can be caused by anything from plants to pollution. ROS emerge after certain substances have been broken down into oxygen derivatives by regular cell functions. As a result, these oxygen species have harmful effects on functions such as gene expression, signaling, and cell development.

The oxidative stress that results can cause inflammation responses and tissue damage. Some studies hypothesize that certain levels of ROS are necessary for ensuring proper immune function, especially in activating appropriate inflammation responses to stimuli.

Like most things in life, moderation is the key difference between ROS being beneficial and detrimental. If a body has too much exposure to ROS, immune functions could be skewed, cell development can change, and there may be damage to normal cell function. This extends to the development of healthy DNA, which has implications for fertility and birth outcomes.

Marijuana & ROS

Marijuana smoke condensates (MSC) are what is generated after smoking marijuana. Some of these condensates could contain THC itself, but there are also byproducts that condense in the lungs and other parts of the body.

Some byproducts of smoking are ROS, which have been shown to induce DNA and chromosomal changes. These are the changes that would directly affect fertility. Specifically, the study observed DNA breakage and cell apoptosis, or cell death.

While the body has mechanisms in place to counteract ROS, chronic marijuana use would overshadow any mitigating cellular functions. There is a distinct difference between neutralizing ROS introduced to your body through pollution and those that are generated by frequent marijuana use.

In fact, one study observed that marijuana condensates were more mutagenic and toxic to cells than tobacco. While tobacco’s effects on cell toxicity were dose dependent, marijuana’s cytotoxic effects were consistently higher regardless of the amount smoked.

What Does This Mean?

Although there have been various studies observing THC’s effect on endocrine function as a predictor for fertility, there is evidence that smoking marijuana can affect fertility through another mechanism: condensates and ROS.

ROS exposure has deleterious long term effects on DNA and cell development. This has major implications for the quality of reproductive cells. While studies are being done on whether this damage is reversible or not, some changes can be made to reduce the effects of high concentrations of ROS.

Specifically, introducing antioxidants into your diet can be a good step to counteracting the harmful effects of ROS. The name is self-explanatory: antioxidants directly counter reactive oxidative species.

Just like ROS, too many antioxidants can result in antioxidative stress, which is equally bad for cell health. To achieve a balance of antioxidants and ROS, speaking to a healthcare professional before taking supplements is best practice.


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