Smoking marijuana may raise risk of testicular cancer

Concerns have been raised over the use of marijuana and the possible risk of increasing testicular cancer. Rates of this male cancer have been rising every year right along with rising rates of marijuana use across the nation.

What once was considered an illicit drug, marijuana use has continued to gain favor and cultural acceptance for medicinal reasons particularly pain relief but also recreational use. In the United States, 44 states have passed laws that either make smoking weed legal, for medical use or have decriminalized it.  Currently, only six states still make marijuana fully illegal in all capacities.

While more U.S. citizens are embracing cannabis use, a leading reason to be wary of its acceptance is the health ramifications it can cause, one of them being an increased risk of developing testicular cancer.

One of the first studies finding a possible connection between long-term weed use and increased rates of testicular cancer was by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in 2009. This research found an elevated risk of testicular cancer among men who had chronic marijuana exposure prior to age 18. The study stated that the male reproductive system naturally produces a cannabinoid-like chemical that is thought to have a protective effect against cancer. The researchers with this study speculated that marijuana use may disrupt this anti-tumor effect, which might why there’s a possible link between marijuana and increased risk of testicular cancer.

A more recent 2019 meta-analysis that reviewed 25 studies conducted over the last 40 years, found a possible link between long-term cannabis use and higher rates of testicular cancer. When you consider that smoking cigarettes was found to increase the risk of developing lung cancer, it’s not far-fetched to ask the question, can marijuana use increase the risk of cancers too?

Testicular cancer and marijuana use

Testicular cancer is rare cancer found in men in the U.S.  About one in every 250 men will develop cancer within the testes at some point during their lifetime with young men being at the greatest risk of developing the disease.  Most cases occur in men ages 15-39, with an average diagnosis age of 33. Only nine percent of men with testicular cancer are older than 50.

The age-adjusted rates of men diagnosed with testicular cancer in the U.S. have been rising 1% each year over the last several decades. While there are likely several factors involved in rising rates of testicular cancer, because of the increased use of cannabis, research is needed to investigate if there is a connection between the two.

If we look at the facts surrounding pot use over the years, here is what we know:

  • Pot has been legalized in some manner in 44 states since 1973. Just like cigarettes are legal, does not make them 100% safe. The same goes for pot. Just because acceptance and legalization of it has expanded, “legalization” does not necessarily mean “safe.”
  • Marijuana is more potent by far than weed sold a generation ago. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive compound in marijuana that acts on the brain to produce the feeling of being high. The average potencies of marijuana sold could range from 20 to 30 percent THC, much more than in years past.
  • Second, to alcohol, marijuana is the most commonly used substance among adolescents.
  • Rates of weed use are increasing, with use among young adults (ages 18-29) doubling from 10% to 21% since 2000.
  • Young adults (ages 18 to 25) are three times more likely to be current pot users compared to older adults. The younger a marijuana user starts the greater risk of addiction and health effects.

Best advice for young men

No matter a person’s reasons are for smoking marijuana, it can be an addictive substance. Some people justify their decision to use weed by stating it’s legal but so is alcohol. Thousands of people struggle with alcoholism and it’s been legal for years. Whether the addiction is to alcohol or marijuana, addiction has both mental and physical aspects. For young men who may have started using marijuana before age 18, the younger you start, the greater chance for addiction and for developing health issues, like testicular cancer.

People can and do develop a substance addiction to marijuana that usually involves a mental obsession and physical craving clouding a person’s judgment. This can have long-term ramifications on the personal and professional life-changing course of your future.

The best advice regarding the use of marijuana is not to start.  Choose a life without substance abuse of any kind. Value and take care of your health. It’s not worth the risk to you, your family, or your health.

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