Refraining from use diminishes cannabis-associated epigenetic changes in human sperm.


Cannabis use alters sperm DNA methylation, but the potential reversibility of these changes is unknown. Semen samples from cannabis users and non-user controls were collected at baseline and again following a 77-day period of cannabis abstinence (one spermatogenic cycle). Users and controls did not significantly differ by demographics or semen analyses. Whole-genome bisulfite sequencing identified 163 CpG sites with significantly different DNA methylation in sperm between groups (P < 2.94 × 10-9). Genes associated with altered CpG sites were enriched with those involved in development, including cardiogenesis and neurodevelopment. Many of the differences in sperm DNA methylation between groups were diminished after cannabis abstinence. These results indicate that sustained cannabis abstinence significantly reduces the number of sperm showing cannabis-associated alterations at genes important for early development.





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Publication Info

Schrott, Rose, Susan K Murphy, Jennifer L Modliszewski, Dillon E King, Bendu Hill, Nilda Itchon-Ramos, Douglas Raburn, Thomas Price, et al. (2021). Refraining from use diminishes cannabis-associated epigenetic changes in human sperm. Environmental epigenetics, 7(1). p. dvab009. 10.1093/eep/dvab009 Retrieved from

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Susan Kay Murphy

Associate Professor in Obstetrics and Gynecology

Dr. Murphy is a tenured Associate Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and serves as Chief of the Division of Reproductive Sciences. As a molecular biologist with training in human epigenetics, her research interests are largely centered around the role of epigenetic modifications in health and disease. 

Dr. Murphy has ongoing projects on gynecologic malignancies, including approaches to eradicate ovarian cancer cells that survive chemotherapy and later give rise to recurrent disease. Dr. Murphy is actively involved in many collaborative projects relating to the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD).

Her lab is currently working on preconception environmental exposures in males, particularly on the impact of cannabis on the sperm epigenome and the potential heritability of these effects. They are also studying the epigenetic and health effects of in utero exposures, with primary focus on children from the Newborn Epigenetics STudy (NEST), a pregnancy cohort she co-founded who were recruited from central North Carolina between 2005 and 2011. Dr. Murphy and her colleagues continue to follow NEST children to determine relationships between prenatal exposures and later health outcomes.


Dillon King

Teaching Assistant

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