CB2 Cannabinoid Receptor Regulates Sperm Creation, Researchers Consider Fertility Treatments

Dawn Papple

The latest buzz on the cannabis front is that marijuana might be able to help infertility. It stems from a research paper printed in the April 2016 issue of The FASEB Journal. Scientists were able to demonstrate that one cannabinoid receptor, called "CB2," is associated with the regulation of creating sperm and that activating this receptor could cause the process to move more quickly. CB2 receptors are located throughout the immune system on organs like the spleen, tonsils, and thymus gland and within the gastrointestinal system. They are the receptors generally cited by medical marijuana activists.

The research doesn't actually claim that cannabis use is good for fertility, though. It just indicates that cannabinoid receptors are involved in male fertility and that perhaps some form of cannabis might play some kind of role in the therapeutic treatment of infertility.

The research team's study involved young mice. The trials lasted 14 to 21 days. One group of young mice was treated with a specific activator (JWH-133) of the CB2 receptor. A second group of young mice was treated with a specific inhibitor of the CB2 receptor. A third group served as the control group and was given only saline. The group treated with the CB2 activator displayed an acceleration of spermatogenesis. When the CB2 inhibitor was given to the second group of mice, the process of making sperm was delayed. Spermatogenesis is the process by which germs cells develop into sperm cells. In people, it takes over two months, according to Human Embryology.

"That the normal beneficial effects of endogenous cannabinoids on spermatogenesis can be stimulated further by a chemical mimic, an agonist, is a potentially promising new idea for treating male infertility," said Dr. Thoru Pederson, Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal, according to a press release on Eureka Alert.

Cannabis and its related compounds have been linked to infertility many times in the past. For example, in 2010, the CB2 and CB1 cannabinoid receptors were found to affect the movement capabilities of sperm, also known as sperm cell motility, in a negative way. In that study, when CB1 receptors were activated, fewer sperms were capable of moving at all and when CB2 receptors were activated, sperm cells moved slowly. THC binds to and activates both CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors, but mostly CB1. In this sense, marijuana use could cause fertility problems. Additionally, last year, a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that smoking pot more than once a week reduces sperm count by around a third.

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"The possibility to improve male fertility is one of the main focuses of this study, since infertility is a worldwide problem that affect up to 15% of couples in which male factors account for almost 20-70%," Dr. Paola Grimaldi, a researcher involved in cannabis-related fertility research out of the Department of Biomedicine and Prevention, School of Medicine at the University of Rome Tor Vergata, said according to Science Daily.

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