The Endocannabinoid System and Fertility

The endocannabinoid system is a relatively recent discovery, so we’re only starting to unravel its role in different physiological functions. As every other system, it is interconnected with health issues in ways that we can only begin to imagine, but fertility is one we didn’t see coming…

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The Endocannabinoid System

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is one of the body’s several biological systems; it develops before we’re born, and we have it throughout our lives. It functions through two receptors, which are stimulated by different cannabinoids and enzymes; and different things, like exercise, or certain foods, can also boost the endocannabinoid system.

This system is in charge of regulating different physiological functions, and we’re only just beginning to understand how it affects us. We know it nudges healing and regeneration, regulates pain signals, inflammation, immune responses, among others. But it is now being studied for its correlation to fertility and hormone levels.   

Endocannabinoid production responds to different environmental and internal stimuli (pain, stress, singing, food, etc). While, cannabinoids themselves can balance internal reactions, like stress and pain.

We don’t always produce the amount of endocannabinoids necessary to tackle a particular reaction, and in these cases, phytocannabinoids act as alternative “keys” to the endocannabinoid system.

When phytocannabinoids enter the body and increase system activity, the ECS down-regulates and doesn’t produce excessive endocannabinoids; it is very sensitive and always looks for balance.

The Endocannabinoid System and Fertility

Fertility issues affect millions of people around the world. They are estimated to affect up to 10% of women and 5% of men, making it a significant health condition.

Of all recorded cases of infertility in couples, one third of cases are caused by female conditions, another third by male conditions, and the remaining third is either caused by both male and female issues, or by an unknown cause.

In recent years, the relationship between the endocannabinoid system and fertility has been increasingly looked into, and now science has more answers and more questions than it did in the past.

So far, it is known that this wonderful system directly affects the production of hormones, since it interacts with the hypothalamus and the pituitary, which could be considered the “command center” of the endocrine system, which means the ECS is significant in the regulation of  the menstrual cycle and other hormone influenced functions.

…evidence shows that the eCS plays an important role in reproduction, from egg fertilization to parturition. Therefore, alterations in this system, either by recreation/therapeutic use of cannabis or deregulation of the endogenous cannabinoids, might lead to adverse pregnancy outcomes, including retardation in embryo development, poor blastocyst implantation, inhibition of decidualization, miscarriage and compromised placentation. Nevertheless, the molecular mechanisms by which the eCS participates in different stages of pregnancy remain poorly understood.”

Anandamide

Anandamide is an endocannabinoid, which means our body produces it naturally, but its levels fluctuate from person to person, and easily change when the ECS is stimulated by external or internal factors. This endocannabinoid has been observed to affect fertility in different ways, causing sometimes negative effects, sometimes positive ones depending on timing…

Endocannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2), endocannabinoids and enzymes have been found in the ovaries and uterus at different levels, depending on the stage of the menstrual cycle or the stage of pregnancy.

For example, during early pregnancy, high levels of anandamide are associated to miscarriage. However, high levels of anandamide after the beginning of the menstrual cycle promote ovulation, which increases the probability of pregnancy. Then, during embryo implantation, anandamide needs to be low for it to be successful, while it should be high during labor to aid the birthing process and keep it from becoming dangerously prolonged.

Sex hormones are also tied to anandamide. Estrogen and progesterone levels are closely linked to endocannabinoid levels. And FAAH, the enzyme that breaks down anandamide, is itself regulated by estrogen.

“The role of endocannabinoids in mammalian reproduction is an emerging concept. Cannabinoids have been always identified as being harmful drugs, because of their negative effects on female reproduction. The discovery of endocannabinoids, endogenous lipids that bind to cannabinoid receptors, and of their involvement in procreation permitted better understanding of the significance of cannabinoid/endocannabinoid signalling in fertilization, preimplantation embryo development, implantation and postimplantation embryonic growth. These studies have also opened new perspectives in clinical applications, pointing to endocannabinoid signalling as a new target for correcting infertility, and for improving reproductive health in humans.”

It seems as though new data and closer observation is dispelling the idea that cannabinoids are strange, detrimental compounds. Now that endocannabinoids have been identified, phytocannabinoids are seen in a whole new light, and their potential as “endocannabinoid substitutes” is being explored.

What about men?

Women aren’t the only ones whose endocannabinoid system alters their ability to reproduce. It could also affect male fertility.

It is now known that endocannabinoids (anandamide and 2-AG) are synthesized by the gonads, and their levels alter sperm production. There is a delicate balance in these endocannabinoids, and too high or two low levels, can significantly affect fertility.

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CBD Oil and Fertility

Until a few years ago, cannabis and its phytocannabinoids were immediately dismissed as being harmful and of no medicinal value. However, recent research and case studies have shown that this pant has a myriad of medicinal benefits and applications that we’re only beginning to discover.

For a few years, the possible correlation between CBD and female fertility has been looked into carefully, mainly just based on anecdotal evidence brought forward by those who have ventured to take CBD supplements during pregnancy for different reasons, such as pain management or nausea relief.

Since drug trials during pregnancy are such a delicate issue, it will take a lot of time for us to really know the whole range of effects of CBD in pregnant women and fetuses.

However, evidence suggests that CBD could actually help with infertility issues caused by endometriosis, since it can stop abnormal cell proliferation and prevent cell migration, as well as lessen inflammation and pain caused by the condition.

CBD also inhibits FAAH enzymes, which break down anandamide. So when low anandamide levels are affecting fertility, CBD can also help keep them up long enough to conceive. Though it would be necessary to stop taking it right after ovulation in order to prevent issues with implantation and early pregnancy.

And when it comes to pregnancy itself, CBD intake needs to be well timed in order to aid in the process, and it is definitely better for those who have particularly low anandamide levels than for those who don’t.

Plus, looking at it from a different perspective, stress is known to affect reproductive physiology and behavior, and CBD stimulates the ECS, which is a regulator if the stress response, and has the ability to reduce anxiety and stress.

THC and Fertility

THC, however, has been said to affect fertility negatively. Though further research is still needed and the effects are not yet fully known.

Lower fertility caused by THC is short lived and returns to normal 2 cycles after abstinence.

Cannabis use lowers progesterone during the luteal (post ovulatory) phase and may alter levels of other important hormones, such as prolactin and cortisol.

In men, a chronic, prolonged exposure to a large amount of cannabis, mainly THC, affects the quantity of sperm produced, depresses spermatogenesis, decreases testosterone production and secretion, and reduces the weight of testes and reproductive organs.

This situation has been well observed in men who consume cannabis regularly for a prolonged period of time. Sexual function becomes difficult, even reaching a point where there is erectile dysfunction, and most don’t know why it’s happening. Luckily, these effects are reversed after 2 or 3 months of complete abstinence.

So… The Endocannabinoid System and Fertility are Strongly Related!

This is a very interesting recent discovery. The study of the endocannabinoid system is slowly but surely beginning to shed more light on fertility issues, and other health conditions, that were previously a mystery to the medical community.

Though sometimes the cause of infertility in men and women is clear, other times it is entirely invisible, causing it to be vaguely attributed to stress and emotional causes. However, the new information we have about the endocannabinoid system are helping these issues become clearer and clearer as research moves forward.

Always remember to consult your doctor before taking CBD supplements or any medication during pregnancy or while trying to conceive. I hope this information was useful!  

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