Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

Marijuana As Birth Control?

According to a recent study, reported on in Forbes magazine, the chemicals in marijuana may prevent pregnancy by making it difficult for a fertilized egg to implant in the uterus.

Dey, the Dorothy Overall Wells professor of pediatrics, cell and developmental biology and pharmacology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and his colleagues conducted their experiments in mice. It’s known that marijuana, the most widely used illegal drug among women of childbearing age, binds to two receptors, called cannabinoid receptors 1 and 2 (CB1 and 2). These receptors are found in the brain and also in sperm, eggs and newly formed embryos.

Typically, the two receptors are activated by a signaling molecule called anandamide, which is synthesized by an enzyme known as NAPE-PLD and then is degraded by another enzyme called FAAH. This balance, or “tone,” of the anandamide is crucial for the embryo to develop normally.

Dey and his team suppressed FAAH activity in the mice. This increased the level of anandamide, which mimics what happens when a woman smokes marijuana and increases the level of THC, which binds to the same receptor as anandamide. The results showed that when FAAH activity is suppressed in the embryos and oviduct, anandamide levels rise, preventing the embryos from completing their passage to the uterus and compromising the pregnancy.

“This is a major finding,” said Dey, “that if you block FAAH and disturb anandamide levels, there is a compromised pregnancy outcome.”

…..

In an accompanying commentary in the journal, Herbert Schuel, professor emeritus of anatomy and cell biology at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York, said the Dey study findings “show that exogenous THC can swamp endogenous anandamide signaling systems,” affecting many processes in the body.

And Schuel offered another warning: Several drugs in development to suppress appetite work by modifying anandamide signaling. Since many women of reproductive age take weight-loss drugs, he suggested that these drugs must be carefully evaluated to determine the long-term effects on women.

The point that the article didn’t touch on, and that interests me, is that these scientists have touched on a non-hormonal birth control. I wonder if this will be picked up on by a pharmaceutical company…….

Comments

  1. #1 darkman
    August 3, 2006

    this has already been studied a bit in research labs, and the ‘cure’ for hormonal birth control pills is still a long way away (if even possible through cannabinoid mediated mechanisms). From what I heard in a recent discussion, it’s not even close to 100% effective (and there’s no assurance that a cannabinoid based brith control would ever be fully efffective) and no one wants birth control that works 75% of the time. Maybe a few more years will find a way to make this a safer form of birth control. Also i’ve heard that smoking the ganja lowers sperm count, lowering the chance of pregnancy somewhat as well (though i’ve heard this just enough times to make me think it might be an urban legend, I’ll have to check later today).

  2. #2 Brandon
    August 3, 2006

    No no, they got it all wrong. It works as birth control for the following reason:
    Him: Let’s do it! Nyahhhh! (stoner laugh)
    Her: Alright. That’s cool.
    pause
    Him: What were we gonna do?
    Her: I don’t know. Smoke some more hash?
    Him: Nyahhhh… you said HASH. H-AAAAASH.
    Her: My hands feel like birds. Hands are soooo cooollll…
    both pass out

  3. #3 Kag
    August 3, 2006

    Hmm. I wonder if the herb once used, and wiped out by, the Greeks (or was it Romans..) did that… Would love to see the reaction of the anti-choice movement to someone making a food supliment, unregulatable by the FDA, that just happened to work as a contraceptive as well. Assuming of course that other side effects didn’t arise.

  4. #4 JaysonB
    August 3, 2006

    “Her: I don’t know. Smoke some more hash?”

    who on the cosmic muffin’s green earth still uses the word HASH?

    Aside from you Brandon, of course.

    I don’t think that weed would kill sex drive at all.

  5. #5 Brandon
    August 3, 2006

    Haaaaash. Nyaaahhhahah.
    Wait, why was I responding?

    (j/k. I’ve heard say it plenty. Maybe it is a region specific preference, like soda, coke, pop, etc. hash is more surfer-ie. Weed is kinda high school or ghetto. Mary Jane is reserved for those over 40. Pot is a harsh word – too abrupt. Marijuana is what you call it in health class. A joint is a single object, as is a bowl, so wouldn’t work in the sentence. And my point wasn’t that it killed sex drive, just that they forgot they wanted to have sex. Grrr.. explained jokes never work. Bah humbug to you, sir!)

  6. #6 Shelley Batts
    August 3, 2006

    Well I got it just fine……I think……my hands are birds…….yesssss parrots……..SQUAWK!!!!!

  7. #7 RPM
    August 4, 2006

    Isn’t there some urban myth about weed decreasing sperm count? Killing two birds (or hands) with one stone (pun not intended, but definitely appreciated).

  8. #8 Brandon
    August 4, 2006

    Nyahahaaaa… you said stone.
    .
    .
    Wait, what?

  9. #9 Shelley Batts
    August 4, 2006

    There will be no discussion of killing birds on this here site. :)

  10. #10 Abel Pharmboy
    August 5, 2006

    RPM, there was a 1978 paper, from Europe I think, that first kicked off this idea that smoking weed decreased sperm count (sperm density is a more accurate term). Lots of confounding variables that confuse the issue, and the subjects were called, “heavy users.” A group at SUNY Buffalo did, indeed, show in 1998 that physiologically-relevant THC interferes with fertilization via inhibiting acrosomal fusion with the egg – seems that endogenous anandamide is a positive modulator of sperm-egg fusion and THC can antagonize that positive effect.

    However, even cigarette smoking can also lower sperm count. Moreover, THC is a potential steroid-mimetic in that it influences LH, testosterone, and prolactin levels; hence, heavy partakers of the blessed herb who are male can sometimes develop gynecomastia – haven’t yet heard of a similar effect in women, but must have been studied by pharma or academics because of potential blockbuster (pun intended) lifestyle drug formulation. Don’t know if a THC breast cream would be as dangerous as estrogen breast creams, the latter of which should never, ever, never, be used by young women due to a logical increased risk of breast cancer.

    BTW, anandamide is intentionally taken from the Sanskrit word, ananada, meaning ‘bliss.’

    But, enough, for now…I should be doing a proof on a certain young professor’s grant application! BTW, Shelleba, you make some really great observations and scientific assocaitions outside your primary field that would make you a valuable contributor in pharma…or if you want to start a dietary supplement company!

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