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Endocannabinoid System May Help Regulate Testis, Study Finds

By Leo Bear-McGuinness

Published: Sep 19, 2019   
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Cannabis-like compounds could help regulate the development of testis and sperm, according to a new study.

The clinical research, published in Scientific Reports, found that the body’s natural endocannabinoid system (ECS) may be directly involved in the formation and upkeep of the human testis.

The findings suggest that activating the body’s ECS – through cannabis use, for example – could affect the regulation of the testis. But the authors say more evidence is needed to confidently assess the impact marijuana has on sperm production.

The endocannabinoid system and fertility

Endocannabinoids are naturally occurring chemicals that can bind to special receptors throughout the body. Cannabinoids from the cannabis plant can also interact with these receptors to create the varied effects of cannabis consumption.

Previous research has already linked the ECS to sperm production, but the new study is one of the first to link the cannabinoid system with the regulation of human testis.

“I was surprised to find that endocannabinoids were so widely expressed in all cell types in the testis, both in the germ cells and the hormone-producing cells,” said Professor Skakkebaek, the lead author of the study.

Skakkebaek and his colleagues searched for ECS samples in the testis tissue of 15 patients with testicular germ cell cancer. And after detecting one of the body’s main endocannabinoids, 2-arachidonoylglycerol, the team found a distinct pattern of ECS components across the different maturation stages of the testis.

This significant presence indicates that, along with sex hormones, endocannabinoids affect the development of testis and sperm. 

High sperm counts

Speaking to Technology Networks, Skakkebaek explained that “andrologists like me have for generations been focusing on other hormone aspects but overlooked the possibility that endocannabinoids may participate in the normal sperm and hormone production.”

“We did see a hint a couple of years ago, when we found that young Danish men who had used marijuana had significantly poorer sperm counts than their peers.”

Marijuana’s effect on sperm levels is largely thought to be a detrimental one. In one study, subjects who smoked cannabis more than once a week were associated with a 29 percent reduction in their sperm count.

And although one other notable study concluded that men who have smoked marijuana at some point in their life had significantly higher sperm concentrations of sperm than those who didn’t, the study’s authors noted that this takeaway “could reflect the fact that men with higher testosterone levels are more likely to engage in risk-seeking behaviors, including smoking marijuana.”

Leo Bear-McGuinness

Science Writer & Editor

Leo joined Analytical Cannabis in 2019. From research to regulations and analysis to agriculture, his writing covers all the need-to-know news for the cannabis industry. He holds a Bachelor's in Biology from Newcastle University and a Master's in Science Communication from the University of Edinburgh.


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