CBD; Can it Promote Fertility Naturally?
As Senior Herbalist, I knew it was only a matter of time before customers, clients and followers asked if CBD offers preconception fertility-health benefits and is okay to use while trying to conceive. Research is happening, but still very new, much of it is inconclusive. While there are a few studies, medical literature on the direct benefits of CBD on the endocrine system and human hormones is sparse. There are, however, proven whole-body health benefits that can benefit men and women on their fertility journeys. Read on to learn more about CBD for fertility…
First, Hemp vs. Marijuana
Hemp and Marijuana are different species or cultivars of the Cannabis plant; they’re like ‘cousins’. To be clear, this article is about the use of Cannabidiol or CBD extracted from Hemp (Cannabis Sativa), not Marijuana (Cannabis Indica), from which we get medical and recreational marijuana (that contain CBD and THC, the psychoactive substance that makes a person ‘high’).
CBD is a non-psychoactive compound. The reason CBD is non-psychoactive is because the atoms that make up its molecular structure are arranged differently than those in THC. Expert organizations like the World Health Organization share, “In humans, CBD exhibits no effects indicative of any abuse or dependence potential…. To date, there is no evidence of public health-related problems associated with the use of pure CBD.”
How does CBD work?
You may not know that the human body has an endocannabinoid system, which involves receptors on the surface of cells in the brain and peripheral nervous system that respond pharmacologically to cannabis.
CBD binds weakly with cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptors in the central nervous system, which is in the brain and spinal cord. It binds weakly with cannabinoid 2 (CB2) in the peripheral nervous system and is involved with the body’s immune system functions. CBD is also known to directly activate serotonin receptors: serotonin is our “feel-good hormone” and neurotransmitter.
Whole System Benefits of CBD
The U.S. National Library of Medicine reports CBD has “… analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antineoplastic and chemopreventive activities.” Beyond that, CBDproject.org shares, “Extensive preclinical research—much of it sponsored by the U.S. government—indicates that CBD has potent anti-tumoral, antioxidant, anti-spasmodic, anti-psychotic, anti-convulsive, and neuroprotective properties…”
More specifically, CBD is proven clinically and anecdotally to have many benefits –benefits that can alleviate the daunting symptoms that accompany many fertility health issues like:
- mood disorders including PTSD, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), anxiety and depression
- insomnia, both falling asleep and staying asleep
- chronic pain and inflammation
- neuralgia and the resultant inflammation
Fertility Health Benefits of CBD
Back to our biological endocannabinoid system for a moment. A healthy endocannabinoid system, according to Angela Gilliam, Community Manager at Verified CBD, “regulates processes like fertility [in men and women] and pregnancy, as well as post- and prenatal development.”
Cannabinoid receptors have been found in female ovaries, including in granulosa cells or follicles cells of secondary and tertiary follicles. It is also thought, according to researchers from the University of Naples in Naples, Italy, that the “cannabinoid and adrenergic systems coordinate together oviductal motility for normal journey of embryos into the uterus…”
Research from 2010 published in the Journal of the Society for Reproduction and Fertility out of Scotland concludes that synthetic CBD has the potential to reduce uterine contractions, even in pregnancy. Note: The use of CBD in pregnancy or with threatened miscarriage is not suggested alone; please seek medical support.
A 2012 Canadian study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine linked female sexual arousal to endocannabinoid system activity.
The same researchers from the University of Naples share that, “Human reproduction is also under the control of endocannabinoid signaling, which regulates the functionality of the hypothalamus-hypophysis-gonads axis and locally the reproductive system with predominant effects… spermatogenic output, sperm viability and motility – on the male side.”
Sperm have cannabinoid receptors. The cannabinoid GPR18 is thought to help improve the sperm’s acrosome reaction – the release of enzyme from the sperm head that assist it in fusing to and penetrating the egg – and their ability to fertilize an egg.
To Use CBD or Not?
The best answer is to talk to your healthcare provider, or a Naturopath, herbalist or midwife with whom you can work one on one. Data and many opinions advise against both men and women smoking and consuming marijuana while preparing for conception, or consuming high doses of CBD in pregnancy.
So many natural therapies exist with proven benefits and varying degrees of success, that we suggest these as a first course of action. That said, when used pre-conception, CBD may be a beneficial part of some natural fertility programs, as it is safe to combine with other herbs, nutritional supplements and natural therapies.
Always consult your healthcare provider if on a program they’ve suggested, on medication or if you have questions. Do your research, especially if you decide it’s right for you to ensure that the CBD/hemp oil you’re purchasing is clean, of high quality and produced by a reputable source.
Let's talk about CBD and fertility
Have you been known to enjoy a CBD latte on occasion? How about a delicious brownie with a few milligrams of CBD in it? CBD has a number of medical and therapeutic properties, but people often ask: What's the deal with CBD oil and fertility? What about other forms of CBD?
For now, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG), the leading body of OB-GYNs, does not have separate recommendations for CBD but does advise people to avoid marijuana if they're trying to get pregnant, currently pregnant, or breastfeeding/chestfeeding — and talking to their healthcare provider about individual cannabis use. However, the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) specifically recommends avoidance of CBD during pregnancy and while breastfeeding/chestfeeding.
But because ACOG doesn't yet have dedicated recs for CBD, we're going to give you the lowdown and what we know so far about CBD and fertility, pregnancy, and breastfeeding/chestfeeding.
Before you set out down the Google wormhole, CBD stands for cannabidiol, a naturally occurring chemical in the marijuana plant and hemp plant. As a cannabinoid, it’s also produced by the human body itself and can be synthetically manufactured.
There is a key difference between CBD and weed, which is that there is no tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in CBD — which is the component in marijuana that gets you high. You can't get addicted to CBD, although you should know it's not always clear how much CBD is in a product, or whether or not those products also contain traces of THC. CBD is available in many places in the US, usually in the form of an oil capsule, an extract, or a vapor, but its legality is constantly in question.
THC and CBD affect the body and mind differently, which leads us to believe that each chemical may or may not affect fertility differently too. A lot more research needs to be conducted before any definitive statements can be made, but let’s talk about what we do know so far.
Why do people use CBD?
can help people manage anxiety and other related conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- CBD has been shown to be effective in treating Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, two childhood epilepsy syndromes, which typically don't respond well to anti-epilepsy drugs. (Epidiolex, an FDA-approved medication for these conditions, contains CBD.)
- CBD might also be good for relieving chronic pain and nausea, but more studies need to be done to verify this and to know which doses might work for certain syndromes.
- Studies show CBD’s potential as a cancer drug.
- It can help treat inflammatory disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.
- Studies are looking into CBD’s therapeutic potential for neurological disorders, including multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.
What are the different forms of CBD?
CBD is available in several different forms, which allows those taking the drug to use the most beneficial method and amount for their needs. Common forms of CBD include:
- Creams and lotions: Topical ointments infused with CBD can relieve joint pain and muscle aches.
- Oils and tinctures: This form of CBD helps your body absorb the chemical quickly and is especially useful for those who don’t want to take CBD in pill form.
- Gummies: Edible CBD helps ensure you ingest an exact amount of CBD.
- Vaping: Inhaling CBD is the fastest way to get the chemical in your system, but we don’t yet know how this method affects lung health.
- Pills: CBD medications that treat conditions like seizure disorders are available in pill form.
What are potential risks and side effects of CBD use?
- Fatigue and drowsiness
- Dry mouth
- Reduced appetite
- Interactions with various medications, including blood thinners (which is why you should always talk to your doctor if you’re planning on using CBD)
And because of what we don’t yet know, fertility issues may or may not be a potential risk. We’ll dive into the existing (and non-existing) research in the next section.
CBD and fertility
We can start to understand the questions out there right now around CBD and fertility by looking at marijuana use and fertility. When it comes to weed, there's a lack of research into the drug’s impact on reproductive health and fetal development because ethical concerns limit opportunities for research. Similarly, CBD, fertility, and the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in general have received very little attention from researchers. So, once again, there's a whole lot that we just don’t know.
However, if we look at our body’s ECS, we can start noticing potential differences between CBD and THC:
- The ECS regulates various processes in our body, including sleep, appetite, mood, and — believe it or not — female and male reproductive systems.
- Both the female reproductive tract and sperm cells have cannabinoid receptors. Because THC binds to these receptors, there are concerns about THC’s impact on fertility, and that’s one of the reasons we need more research.
- An important difference between CBD and THC? Studies have not found evidence of CBD binding to these receptors — so we don’t actually know how CBD affects the body’s ECS, which means we don’t really know how it affects fertility either.
- Another notable difference between THC and CBD chemicals was found in research from 1979, particularly that natural CBD had little impact on ovulation in rats, while a synthetic derivative of CBD did affect ovulation. (We certainly need more recent CBD findings to understand what this means for humans.)
Interestingly enough, because CBD doesn't appear to bind to cannabinoid receptors, we don’t really even understand why the drug is helpful. For example, one antiseizure CBD medication called Epidiolex "does not appear to exert its anticonvulsant effects through interaction with cannabinoid receptors," according to the FDA. As studies continue, some researchers are considering two possibilities:
- CBD might slow the breakdown process of natural cannabinoids, which would enhance their effects.
- CBD binds to a different receptor medical researchers have yet to identify.
Since we don’t know enough (yet) about how CBD functions in the human body, our questions about fertility remain unanswered.
Why do some people think CBD can boost fertility?
- Marketing from CBD wellness companies: Businesses that provide CBD suggest the chemical boosts fertility, and various online sources make similar claims — like CBD can improve ovarian function and follicle (the fluid-filled sacs that house and release eggs in the ovaries) maturation. However, research backing up this idea simply does not currently exist. If you come across advertisements boasting this information, you should know that those statements are, for now, not evidence-based.
- Research into endocannabinoid-deficiency:As researchers consider the possibility that some people may be endocannabinoid-deficient (which would lead to conditions like fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome), studies are looking into whether increasing the amount of CBD in your system can provide treatment. This is the same reasoning that often gets applied to explain CBD’s potential to improve fertility, but we don’t actually have that info.
- Stress relief:Because stress may impact fertility and CBD can reduce stress levels, people might make a connection between CBD and boosted fertility. However, there are no current studies that directly link CBD to stress reduction with an impact on fertility.
CBD and male fertility
Until we have studies investigating the impact of CBD use on the reproductive systems of human males, let’s break down what we’ve learned from research on animal subjects:
- In a review of 32 different animal studies including mice, monkeys, and rats, researchers found that male mammals exposed to CBD were more likely to develop smaller testicles, have less sperm-producing cells (meaning lower sperm count), and have lower reproductive hormone levels and fertilization rates overall.
- Again, we need a lot more human-based studies to come to any sort of conclusion, but this review does show that chronic CBD use can impair the male reproductive system in vertebrates.
- An important caveat: The review authors state that their knowledge is limited, and it is not known if any of this info would apply to humans using CBD.
CBD, pregnancy, and breastfeeding/chestfeeding
Is it safe to use CBD while pregnant? What about while breastfeeding/chestfeeding? We’re sorry to be repetitive, but once again, we just don’t know yet. Here's what we have evidence of so far:
- A 2018 study found that infants of birthing parents who’d inhaled non-medicinal cannabis during their pregnancies had detectable levels of CBD in their umbilical cord serum and meconium (their first poop). This tells us that CBD is in fact making its way into the systems of fetuses.
- Findings from a 2019 review showed evidence of CBD causing harm to animal embryos and fetuses. Again, it's important to note that the results from animal studies may not apply to humans.
- Studies have not confirmed whether or not cannabidiol is present in breast milk/chest milk while using CBD.
- Right now, CBD retailers state that deciding to use CBD while breastfeeding/chestfeeding requires you to consider potential risks to the infant, and/or whether the birthing parent needs to prioritize CBD’s health benefits and choose not to breastfeed/chestfeed.
OB-GYN and Modern Fertility medical advisor Dr. Eva Luo, MD says that "if fetal harm is more definitive, a future where additional ultrasounds or other forms of testing may be recommended" for patients with continued use of substances like CBD during pregnancy.
The bottom line on CBD and fertility
You probably know what we're going to say — it's complicated. We unfortunately don’t know anything about how CBD may positively or negatively affect human reproductive systems or developing fetuses. CBD has numerous benefits that may improve other areas of your health, but be wary of any fertility talk.
While the impact of CBD could be weaker than the impact of THC, because there are so many unanswered questions, you might want to steer clear of it if you're thinking about trying to get pregnant in the near future or if you’re currently pregnant. At present, the FDA is the only governing body with recommendations for CBD during pregnancy and while breastfeeding/chestfeeding, and they advise people to avoid it. As always, it's important to discuss any substance use with your healthcare provider. Because so much more research is needed, there's an organization you can contact if you’ve been exposed to cannabis or CBD while pregnant. Reach out to the North American Antiepileptic Drug (NAAED) Pregnancy Registry at 1-888-233-2334 or visit their website.
Navigating this type of ongoing research while you’re already on a complex fertility journey certainly isn’t easy. Modern Fertility is here to support you each step of the way and help you strategize, whether you’re learning about your reproductive hormone levels with our Fertility Hormone Test, getting tips on how to talk with your doctor and your partner, or speaking with other people in our community as together we learn about our bodies and plan our futures.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Eva Marie Luo, an OB-GYN at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and a Health Policy and Management Fellow at Harvard Medical Faculty Physicians, the physicians organization affiliated with the Beth Israel-Lahey Health System.
CBD and Fertility
The legal status of marijuana is complex and varies by state. Federally, it’s still illegal but in 2015 the FDA approved research on CBD. Currently, CBD is regulated as a supplement which makes it relatively easy to obtain (easier than Marijuana) but makes it medically more ambiguous as supplements don’t have strict regulations about concentration, dosage, etc. As CBD becomes more widely acceptable and researched, more and more are looking to it as a viable fertility supplement.
So much is still unknown at this point. More research needs to be done. But here’s what we’ve learned so far about how CBD impacts fertility.
What is CBD?
THC ( tetrahydrocannabinol) is the most active compound in marijuana. It’s what is responsible for causing the “high” typically associated with smoking marijuana.
CBD is short for cannabidiol and it is derived from the hemp plant. It is one of the active compounds in marijuana. It doesn’t cause any high and, so far, there is no evidence that CBD has harmful effects on health. In fact, CBD is reported to have therapeutic uses for a range of ailments, including:
- Epileptic seizures
- Chronic pain
- Cancer symptoms
We know very little right now about CBD affects fertility and pregnancy. Research on marijuana use has shown that smoking marijuana can decrease ovulation and IVF success. Research has also found that marijuana has a negative impact on male fertility, including significant reduction (30%) in sperm concentration and count. All of this research, however, included marijuana with THC.
CBD has been studied much less and despite all the health claims coming from CBD dispensaries and online forums, there simply isn’t enough research to confirm that CBD can boost fertility or resolve infertility. There also isn’t enough research on its impact during pregnancy.
Right now, CBD is classified as a supplement. Supplements are not given a high level of scrutiny, which means labels can be misleading. One report showed that nearly half of CBD products contained more CBD than was listed on the label, and one-quarter had less. Nearly one-fifth of the products contained THC.
When you can’t regulate dosage of a produce, it’s hard to regulate its safety or its effectiveness.
CBD, Endocannabinoids and Fertility
The list of ailments that CBD can treat seems to grow by the day. If it can alleviate seizures, chronic pain and anxiety, surely it can help fertility, right? It’s a good question, but we’re far from having a clear answer.
The interesting thing about CBD, and one of the reasons it’s thought to be a good product for fertility, is that its chemical structure looks similar to some of the hormones our body produces called endocannabinoids.
We don’t understand a lot about the complex endocannabinoid system (ECS) at this point–it’s a relatively recent discovery still being researched by experts. So far, they’ve linked it to a number of important processes in the body, including pain, immune system responses, sleep and the reproductive system. ECS receptors are what allow compounds like THC and CBD to interact with the body and do things like alleviate pain, inflammation, seizures and stress.
Endocannabinoid receptors have been found in sperm and the female reproductive tract. Because of this, it’s thought that they can improve a sperm’s ability to fertilize an egg, boost ovarian function and follicle maturation. In short, that CBD can be a natural way to boost fertility with minimal negative side effects. There is yet to be strong evidence to support this theory.
There is still much more to learn about the endocannabinoid system, its role in fertility and how it interacts with (and is impacted by) CBD.
Risks of Taking CBD
The risks of taking CBD aren’t all clear. As with any supplement, tell your doctor you’re taking it. They may even have research and guidance to help you in meeting your health and fertility goals.
Still, keep in mind that CBD is a supplement and not strictly regulated. It’s important that if you decide to take CBD, do your research and ensure that it’s the highest quality.
Forms of CBD
If you decide to use CBD, you have a whole range of options to choose from. Some are more dubious than others (CBD-infused water, for example). Some are cheaper, more concentrated, easier to swallow, faster-acting or more easily measured. However you choose to vape, swallow or apply, you have options. Here are some of the most popular:
- Oil . CBD can come as an oil or tincture. As an oil it’s easy to ingest with a dropper or to be rubbed into the skin. It’s one of the fastest-acting forms when dropped under the tongue because it’s quickly absorbed.
- Lotions and Creams . CBD is available as a topical ointment. Most commonly these are used for treating ailments like eczema and joint pain because it has a direct effect on the affected area.
- Gummies and edibles . One of the most popular ways to take CBD, gummies are quick and portable. Dosage is straightforward (no measuring from a dropper) and cost is less than most other forms.
- Vaping . Vaping is another popular option because the substance is quickly absorbed. But user beware: vaping may damage the lung tissue, the oil may contain harmful chemicals.
What Are the Side Effects?
Because so little research has been done, it’s hard to know all the side effects of taking CBD. Nausea, fatigue and irritability have been reported and can interact with certain other medications in a similar way to grapefruit juice. It can also raise levels of the blood thinner coumadin.
There is still relatively little known about CBD and years more research until we know its efficacy and safety, especially when it comes to fertility and pregnancy.
Until we know more, here are a few things you can do to increase your chances of fertility:
- Avoid smoking. We may not know about CBD but THC has been shown to be detrimental to fertility in both men and women. Even vaping CBD oil likely bears more risks than benefits.
- Tell your doctor. They need to know all the supplements you’re taking, especially if it’s CBD.
- Start with a low dose. You don’t know how you will react to CBD or how it will impact your health. Start with a high quality, low dose form. Be cautious.
- Use only high quality products. Anyone can put CBD in an oil and call it a health supplement. You want high quality ingredients with no harmful additives.
CBD may be helpful and it may not. Until we know for sure, use caution, do your research, and talk with your doctor.