You’ve maybe heard rumors or had personal doubts about weed affecting your masculinity, or testosterone levels. But the question of how true this is – or possible – remains unclear. It’s no wonder since there is so much we still have to learn about marijuana and its effects on our bodies. In this article, we will give you an overview of what’s been learned so far.
Weed and Man-Boobs: Real or Myth?
Gynecomastia (gai·nuh·kuh·ma·stee·uh) is a medical condition in which the breasts get larger in male individuals. It is usually a product of increased estrogen levels or other types of hormonal dysbalance induced or caused by an organ malfunction or an external factor, such as a chemical compound.
The condition is not dangerous in itself, and the individual can be perfectly healthy otherwise. It can be a sign of another illness or condition that initiates the breast enlargement, and these conditions may be severe, like cancer.
Gynecomastia is reported to also affect the self-esteem of a male individual and is commonly interpreted as an attack on their masculinity. The fact is that gynecomastia is very common among men above their thirties and it is said that about 65% of middle-aged and older men have gynecomastia.
Some studies and doctor reports lead to implications that gynecomastia is related to marijuana use. Many esthetic surgeons were told by their patients with gynecomastia that they have smoked weed some time in their life or are smoking it at the time their esthetic procedure should have taken place. One common step in preventing relapse with gynecomasty is stopping smoking weed.
There are some critiques on these facts though. The most common one is that gynecomastia is prevalent among the general population. Looking at other studies and seeing the broader picture, the testosterone levels among Westerners plummeted in the past few decades and there are other suspects, like plastic, nutrition, etc.
Ever-smokers and Chronic Smokers
Another type of study looked into the differences between those who never smoked weed, those who have smoked marijuana sometimes in their life, and those who smoke it at the time the study has taken place. These studies have indeed found the differences in testosterone levels between the first two groups and the second. There were no significant differences between the ever-smokers and the never-smokers.
The significant find in these studies is that the use of marijuana does indeed acutely affect testosterone levels within the body of a smoker. One of the explanations offered is that the building blocks of spermatozoids and important elements that participate in the healthy function of testicles (which create testosterone) are cannabinoids, the same family of compounds to which tetrahydrocannabinol belongs to. The hypothesis is that THC affects the way male’s testicles work.
The fact that the testosterone levels of ever-smokers, i.e. those who have smoked weed but quit, are basically the same as of men who never smoked weed (when controlled for race, alcohol use, and other significant factors) is reassuring because it implies that the testosterone levels stabilize once the smoker stops taking THC into their body.
There are suspicions that the amount of cannabis and its type reduces testosterone proportionally. There are studies on animals that clearly show that the amount of testosterone is directly in proportion to the amount of cannabis the animal had received.
Since the body is such a delicate system, there is no way to tell how exactly the hormonal dysbalance affects the smoker during their time of smoking weed. The lowered levels of testosterone do not only bring up the problem of lacking the “cohones juice”, or getting less manly, or whatever you put it. Testosterone and other hormones work in harmony to do their job in the body. The lack of testosterone implies the excess of other hormones like estrogen, which can affect the body differently.
One side effect of this possible hormonal dysbalance is the unwanted changes in the body, including heart problems and heart disease which can lead to premature death and other serious heart conditions.
Is it in the dose?
There is a recent study that seems to be showing something promising. We have to take it with a grain of salt though.
The study has shown that sperm count is affected by cannabis use. There are older studies that have shown the same correlation, but what makes this study different from the old ones who clearly found the drop in sperm count and overall condition of spermatozoids with the use of cannabis, is the indication that the sperm count might increase with moderate use of cannabis. But, let’s get a closer look into this one:
The study has differentiated the subjects by never, ever, and currently using cannabis, and they’ve added the frequency in their differentiation. They have taken data from several fertility institutes that have concluded that those who have taken marijuana two or three times a week have significantly higher sperm count and their spermatozoids were in a better shape EVEN than those who have never smoked marijuana.
Another study shows that there is an increase in testosterone with those who stop taking marijuana, and their testosterone levels eventually rise even beyond the average of those who’ve never smoked weed.
Before we conclude this is good news, here’s a little lesson in study interpretation.
The studies mentioned were statistical analyses of papers and documents from other institutes. Although this documentation follows strict scientific rules of controlling the subjects for other variables, not all variables are taken into consideration.
For this reason, there are several interpretations of the increase in testosterone and sperm count among ex-users and moderate users. The first one is that these users had high testosterone levels in the first place. Given the fact that high testosterone increases aggressiveness and the fact that marijuana decreases aggressiveness, we can assume those with higher sperm count and testosterone are more prone to using cannabis in the first place. By this interpretation, the studies only confirmed that cannabis decreases testosterone and sperm count, or controls their levels in cases of moderate use.
The second major interpretation is a little more optimistic but requires a lot more insight in the following years. It may be possible that moderate intake of THC improves the function of testicles in terms of sperm and testosterone production, just like moderate amounts of alcohol can be healthy compared to unhealthy excessive use.