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What You Need to Know About Recreational Drugs and Male Fertility

Male fertility is impacted by all kinds of recreational drugs.

June 7, 2019
Bridget Houlihan

With the exception of alcohol, most recreational drugs are considered illegal by the U.S. government-- including marijuana. Although recreation use is legalized in some states-- and many more have medicinal marijuana legalized-- it is still a banned substance according to the federal government. Opioids are available by prescription only-- although their over-prescription has caused a large portion of the population to become addicted to them.


All other drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines, and heroin are all illegal. Another common type of drug used are legal steroids-- used by amateur and professional athletes for endurance build up and strength. But regardless of their legality, people use-- and will continue to use-- these substances. But does their consumption have any effect on male reproductive health? We’re going to examine the results of various studies done that analyzed the side effects which occured after men consumed:

  • Alcohol
  • Marijuana
  • Opioids
  • Steroids


Alcohol

Although legal, this drug can cause many problems when abused-- including liver damage. It also is extremely impairing and can cause motor accidents that lead to injury and even death. It’s effects on male fertility seem to be focused on the testicular level-- it impairs serum luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) which can decrease seminal plasma volume. Overuse can also cause testicular atrophy, decreased libido, and erectile dysfunction. Heavy alcohol consumption can lead to testicular failure and cessation of spermatogenesis. There is even evidence to suggest that heavy alcohol intake can do worse damage to men’s testicular function than to their liver.


bucket of wine bottles
Alcohol misuse can do a lot of damage to the reproductive system in men.


Marijuana

Although federally illegal for recreation, marijuana is still a widely used drug. For men, overuse can lead to reduced serum LH levels which leads to a suppression of testosterone released. Perhaps most concerning is that marijuana use can lead to oligospermia-- or low sperm count. Because marijuana contains cannabinoids, these will bind to receptors on the sperm and cause asthenospermia-- reduced sperm motility. There is research to show that this drug also reduces the ability of sperm to penetrate the egg for successful fertilization. It is interesting to note however, that cannabinoids have shown to increase sperm activity when used in low amounts-- in high amounts they do the exact opposite and inhibit sperm function.


Opioids

Opioids such as methadone and heroin are abused by people because they offer sedation and decreased pain perception by the central nervous system. Both of these drugs have shown to lower testosterone concentrations and effect sperm motility. Their abuse has also been linked to lower ejaculate volumes and it seems that these dysfunctions of the male reproductive system continue even after the user stops taking the drug.


Legal opioids that are prescribed by a doctor are also of the same family as methadone and heroin. The effects of their long term use in men have been documented as lower LH and testosterone levels-- which can lead to a lower libido and erectile dysfunction.


prescription pills
There are potentially negative side effects to many recreational drugs, and men should be aware of the damage they can cause.

Steroids

There are many documented cases of the abuse of anabolic androgenic steroids-- especially in the world of professional sports. These are marketed as testosterone supplements, and can  include testosterone as well as synthetic derivatives. They are primarily used to enhance performance and increase strength-- but their are consequences to the male reproductive system.


These steroids can cause reduced testosterone concentrations and even testicular atrophy. There is also evidence that spermatogenesis is suppressed as well. If steroid abuse is stopped, there is the chance to recover spermatogenesis, however, sperm morphology and motility continued to be abnormal.


As these studies suggest, there are consequences to consuming recreational drugs-- whether they are legal or illegal. Men should be aware of the negative side effects that misuse can have on their reproductive systems.


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