Cannabinoids inhibit the respiration of human sperm

Zaki S. Badawy, Kazim R. Chohan, Donna A. Whyte, Harvey S. Penefsky, Oliver M. Brown, Abdul Kader Souid

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Objective: To investigate the effects of the psychotropic compounds Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC) and Δ8-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ8-THC) on sperm mitochondrial O2 consumption (respiration). Setting: State University of New York Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, New York. Patient(s): Forty-one men who visited the andrology laboratory for fertility evaluation. Intervention(s): None. Main Outcome Measure(s): A phosphorescence analyzer that measures O2 concentration in sperm suspensions as a function of time was used to measure respiration. Result(s): An immediate decline in the rate of respiration was observed when Δ9-THC or Δ8-THC was added to washed sperm. The inhibition was concentration dependent, and Δ9-THC was the more potent of the two compounds. Respiration was much less affected when Δ9-THC or Δ8-THC was added to neat semen, suggesting the presence of protective factors in seminal plasma. Both compounds inhibited the respiration of isolated mitochondria, illustrating that direct mitochondrial damage is likely the primary mechanism of action. Conclusion(s): The two main active cannabinoids of the marijuana plant, Δ9- and Δ8-THC, are potent inhibitors of mitochondrial O2 consumption in human sperm. These findings emphasize the adverse effects of these toxins on male fertility. The cytoprotective capacity of seminal plasma deserves further investigation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2471-2476
Number of pages6
JournalFertility and sterility
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Cannabinoids
  • mitochondria
  • respiration
  • sperm

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology


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