Active Compound in Marijuana May Increase Testicular Cancer Risk

Elizabeth Whittington

CURE, Winter 2012, Volume 11, Issue 4

Active compound in marijuana may increase testicular cancer risk

While legalizing marijuana in certain states created quite a buzz at the end of 2012 , a study published in the journal Cancer in September found that marijuana could increase the risk of testicular cancer.

The study questioned nearly 500 men in Los Angeles County about recreational drug use, including marijuana, cocaine and LSD, comparing the answers of those who had developed testicular germ cell tumors to those who had no history of the cancer.

Researchers found that men who used marijuana were twice as likely to have had testicular cancer, specifically the hard-to-treat non-seminoma type. Those diagnosed with the disease are typically adolescents or young adults. Because the study primarily relied on researcher interviews with participants, researchers can’t conclusively link marijuana use to testicular cancer. However, this is the third study to show an association between the two.

Surprisingly, among those who smoked marijuana, factors such as duration of use, frequency and being a current user didn’t seem to increase the risk further. It is believed that marijuana use, specifically the compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), affects a signaling pathway in the pituitary and hypothalamus glands in the brain and in the gonads, which impairs testicular cells. Cocaine, on the other hand, appeared to lower the risk, likely due to the drug killing testicular germ cells—both healthy and malignant.

Researchers note that the topic should be studied further, not only because of the implications from an individual decision on recreational use, but also because cannabinoid compounds are being researched for medical use, including—ironically—cancer.