I have personal experience of this when I worked in a surgery in a high drug abuse area. That surgery had an above average infertility demographic and many of the women that I saw were either regular drug users or had been in the past.
Therefore, if you are wanting a baby sometime in the future, I would strongly advise stopping any recreational drug use as soon as possible to prevent further damage. As an absolute minimum, you should stop using drugs at least 3 months before trying to conceive to make sure any immediately harmful effects have worked their way out of your system.
Recreational Drug Types and Their Impact on Fertility
All recreational drugs can potentially harm your chances of conception and the development of the baby, although individual effects are different according to the drug used. I discuss some of the better known drugs and the research on their effects on fertility and pregnancy below. However, there are many more drug types than the ones I list, most of which have not had their effects studied (usually because it would not be ethical to do so). Because of this, less is known about the potential harmful effects and risks of taking these substances when trying for a baby.
Recreational drugs do not even have to be illegal for them to cause damage to your fertility. Many countries have a relaxed policy on certain drugs (for example cannabis), but they can still harm your chances of getting pregnant. Furthermore, new substances are being produced all the time and are often marketed as “legal highs” (a misleading term as they quickly become illegal once the authorities are aware of them). This does not mean that they are safe, so I would advocate steering clear of any substances that are for recreational use.
Cannabis / Marijuana and Fertility
Marijuana’s Impact on Conception
Research studies have shown that marijuana can result in infertility by disrupting the hormonal regulation by the brain, reducing Luteinising Hormone (LH) levels and preventing ovulation. If ovulation does occur, there is also evidence to suggest that the passage of the egg to the uterus is slowed down (to quote a colleague of mine: “Stoned brain, stoned egg!”). This can stop a fertilised egg from being able to implant at the correct time.
These effects can last for a long time after marijuana use has stopped, with studies finding the after effects remaining in women for up to a year after use had ceased. However, there was no direct link between the frequency and duration of use of cannabis and the extent of fertility problems. The good news is that after stopping cannabis, women’s fertility tends to return to normal, although as mentioned above, it can take up to one year to fully recover.
Cannabis’s Impact on Pregnancy
In women who do conceive but continue to use cannabis, the effect upon the developing baby can be significant. Babies tend to be born with a lower birth weight and can have withdrawal symptoms following birth, including shaking and uncontrollable crying. Longer term effects on the baby include impaired motor skills, poorer attention and concentration, and learning difficulties.
Cocaine and Fertility
Cocaine’s Impact on Conception
Cocaine can have significant and permanent effects upon your fertility. Research into cocaine and fertility shows it can prevent ovulation by interfering with hormonal regulation, leading to irregular menstrual cycles. As well as this, cocaine can cause permanent damage to the Fallopian tubes, resulting in problems with the passage of the egg into the uterus. While the hormone disruption may return to normal once cocaine use has stopped, if there has been damage to the Fallopian tubes, this may be irreversible and if severe enough, may result in the need for fertility treatments such as IVF. So, if you were wondering does cocaine make you infertile; ‘Yes’, it can.
Cocaine’s Impact on Pregnancy
Using cocaine during pregnancy can cause early miscarriages. In pregnancies that continue, the babies often are born prematurely, underweight, at increased risk of strokes, and may have heart or urinary tract developmental problems.
Opiates and Female Fertility
Opiates are a group of drugs derived from opium produced by poppy plants. They are used medically as strong painkillers, but also can be used recreationally and are highly addictive. They include morphine, codeine, heroin (diamorphine) and Vicodin.
Opiate’s Impact on Conception
Irregular or absent periods and failure to ovulate are common symptoms of opiates on female fertility. This is because opiates affect the body’s hormonal regulation, and in some cases opiates affect female fertility by directly causing problems with the reproductive organs.
Opiate’s Impact on Pregnancy
Opiate use during pregnancy can cause babies to be born prematurely and underweight, and they are at risk of withdrawal symptoms at birth, such as shaking, uncontrollable crying and seizures.
As mentioned above, opiates can be prescribed by your doctor to treat pain. If you are already taking these medications, which include codeine (weaker opiate), or morphine or oxycodone (stronger opiates), and are wanting to conceive, discuss these medications with your doctor. It may be possible to look at either reducing the dosage of these medications, or changing your medication. Sometimes these medications are prescribed during pregnancy (especially the weaker opiates). If taken in small doses and not regularly, they are unlikely to cause problems, but if you are concerned then speak to your doctor.
For more information on prescription drugs and fertility, check out the section: Prescription Medication and Fertility
LSD and Fertility
There is limited research available regarding LSD use and fertility problems. This does not mean that LSD use does not cause fertility problems, only that at present there is insufficient data to confirm this. It is known however that taking LSD during pregnancy can cause babies to be born underweight.
Amphetamines and Fertility
Amphetamines are a group of stimulants, which include speed and crystal meth. These drugs are known to cause birth defects such as cleft palate and heart abnormalities. Babies are more likely to be born prematurely and underweight.
Less is known about amphetamine use when trying to conceive, but it is likely to have a negative impact. Amphetamines suppress appetite and therefore if taken regularly you may have depleted nutrient stores and may be too underweight to get pregnant.
Legal Highs and Fertility
As mentioned previously, there is little known about the direct effects of legal highs upon fertility. This is because there is such a wide variety of substances being produced and you cannot be sure exactly what the legal high consists of, or what other substances have been mixed with it.
Don’t be reassured by the fact that these drugs are titled “legal”; they can still cause significant harm, and are best avoided altogether. In fact, in the UK, a recent blanket ban on these legal highs has been introduced, making them illegal as soon as they are produced.
Do Drugs Affect Women’s Eggs Long Term?
Some drugs are known to have permanent negative effects on your mind and body. So, the answer to the question of ‘do drugs affect women’s eggs’ is very likely to be ‘Yes’. And because women are born with all the eggs they will ever have, the problem may be permanent. However, whether the drugs affect on women’s eggs leads to simply problems getting pregnant, or to more serious problems with the development of the baby is less clear. This is because large scale research into things that are known to be bad is ethically questionable.
Recreational Drugs and Men’s Fertility
It’s not only your fertility which could be affected by drug use. If your partner (or sperm donor) is using recreational drugs, this could be impacting the quality of his sperm. This is especially true if the man takes anabolic steroids, as these are the male equivalent of the contraceptive pill. For more information on how recreational drugs affect men, check out the section: Male Lifestyle Factors Affecting Fertility
Further Advice on Recreational Drugs
If you want to know more about recreational drugs and their effect upon your health beyond just your fertility, check out the excellent drug advice site Talk To Frank