Can Smoking Marijuana Create Skin Problems?
As marijuana is increasingly being legalized for both medical and recreational use, there are many aspects to discover about the plant’s effects on your health. This includes your skin, the body’s largest organ.
There’s some talk online about marijuana aggravating oily skin and causing acne, while others claim that smoking it can benefit your skin.
The bottom line is there isn’t enough scientific evidence available to establish links between smoking marijuana and your skin health. So far, research into any skin benefits of marijuana have looked at topical uses only.
Let’s cover the claims about smoking marijuana and its effects on the skin, both good and bad.
Marijuana contains a variety of naturally occurring compounds that primarily affect your central nervous system (which includes the brain).
The plant itself has increasingly gained a reputation for its cannabidiol (CBD) content, which may affect your brain but doesn’t get you high. Another chemical called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the substance that does get users high.
All marijuana contains THC, but CBD, as a derivative, doesn’t have THC. However, CBD oil production currently isn’t regulated, so quality and concentration likely varies.
Traditional marijuana has hallucinogenic effects, which are attributed to THC. It can also cause side effects that mostly affect your brain, lungs, and heart. Another side effect is dry mouth.
However, there’s no concrete proof that marijuana can dry out your skin and perhaps lead to acne and other skin care concerns .
It’s well-established that smoking tobacco products such as cigarettes can lead to long-term skin damage.
You may notice that people who smoke tend to have more fine lines and wrinkles compared to those who don’t. This may be due to the effect that tobacco has on collagen content in the skin. Collagen is the natural protein in your skin responsible for elasticity and plumpness.
Still, it’s not clear whether these same effects apply to smoking marijuana. While cannabis itself isn’t considered carcinogenic, the smoke from both tobacco and possibly marijuana contain carcinogens, with tobacco smoke having the most-established negative effects.
On the flip side, the marijuana plant itself has been found to have anti-inflammatory components .
There are conflicting claims on the internet about marijuana and your skin, none of which are based on scientific studies.
Some suggest marijuana can potentially benefit your skin and keep sebum at bay. Sebum is the oil produced from sebaceous glands that can contribute to acne. Others claim that it can make your skin age more rapidly and perhaps worsen inflammatory skin conditions such as acne, psoriasis, and rosacea. A lot of the confusion has to do with the way marijuana is used.
One possible benefit of smoking marijuana is its ability to reduce the risk of certain cancers. This may include skin cancer .
Other preliminary studies show that the anti-inflammatory effects of marijuana could help certain skin diseases , but more clinical trials are needed.
The truth is that researchers now have more opportunities to study the effects of marijuana on skin health, partly thanks to the legalization of the substance in some states.
As more studies are conducted on marijuana, the more concrete clinical evidence we will have on its effects on the skin.
When considering marijuana for skin health, there also seems to be more evidence that topical uses of cannabis, rather than smoking it, may benefit the skin. “Topical” here means applied directly to the skin.
One review suggested that cannabinoids in marijuana, when applied topically, may produce anti-inflammatory and anti-itching effects for eczema.
Another study of topical cannabis found that cannabinoids “show promise” to help treat acne due to its anti-inflammatory effects.
While being around others who smoke marijuana may infrequently lead to a “contact high” from THC, there’s no evidence showing that secondhand marijuana smoke can affect the skin.
It isn’t well-known what the side effects of inhaling marijuana smoke are, so it’s unclear what the long-term risks associated with secondhand smoke from marijuana might be.
Very little research has been done to determine whether smoking marijuana can lead to skin problems like acne. Here's what we know so far.
Does smoking weed cause acne?
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- What causes acne?
- Does cannabis make acne worse?
- Could cannabis reduce acne?
- Tips for healthy skin
- Bottom line on cannabis and acne
Acne is a frustrating skin condition for as many as 50 million Americans. While acne affects 85% of adolescents, chronic breakouts can persist into adulthood. Multiple factors can contribute to the formation of pimples on the face and body, but does smoking marijuana cause acne?
Here you’ll learn about the different causes and risk factors for acne and the research on cannabis and acne. Plus, we’ll offer some expert tips to keep your skin glowing.
What causes acne?
There are plenty of myths surrounding dairy products and sugary sodas when it comes to acne. But the scientific evidence points to one primary cause — genetics. “Although there was once thought to be a link between acne and smoking tobacco, the evidence hasn’t supported this idea,” explains Dr. Adie Rae, a neuroscientist and scientific adviser to Weedmaps.
Some other common causes of acne:
- High testosterone levels and excess androgens
- Skin-clogging cosmetics
- Oily hair care products that make contact with the face
- Bacteria from dirty phones, pillowcases, and other objects that come in contact with the face
- Chronic stress, often stemming from a lifestyle lacking adequate sleep and balanced nutrition
Another common cause is normal hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle when testosterone levels are higher. Acne breakouts are, in fact, more prevalent in adult females than males due to the shifting hormones of menstruation and, eventually, menopause.
But does smoking marijuana cause acne, and can cannabis exacerbate skin conditions that are already problematic?
Does cannabis make acne worse?
Current research indicates that smoking weed does not make acne worse in most people. There is only one study that has shown an association between adolescent cannabis smokers and acne.
While smoking weed does not make acne worse in most people, some young adults who consume cannabis regularly, with a combination of fluctuating hormones and diet, have been linked to moderate to severe acne. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
That study was conducted in France in 2015 and published in the scientific journal Dermatology. It showed that regular cannabis smoking (along with the consumption of chocolate and other sweets) was linked to moderate to severe acne in participants aged 15 to 24. However, other factors may have played a role in the subjects’ acne, as young adulthood is marked by fluctuating hormones and represents the time when people are most likely to have acne. In other words, it is unclear whether smoking weed was the sole (or even the primary) cause of acne in these individuals.
Could cannabis reduce acne?
It is possible that certain cannabis products could help reduce or prevent acne, according to Dr. Rae. “Cannabis seed extract measurably reduces sebum in healthy adults. Sebum can plug hair follicles and lead to acne. Hemp seed oil has also been shown to reduce inflammation and sebum production, in vitro,” Dr. Rae says.
Creams containing cannabis seed extract can reduce sebum in healthy adults, making it a safe and effective way to manage acne. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps
Dr. Rae cited one 2015 study published in the Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, which showed that a cream containing 3% cannabis seed extract was a safe and effective way to manage acne. Specifically, the cream appeared to have a calming effect on the sebaceous glands of men’s cheeks, decreasing the production of sebum and the appearance of acne.
“In human skin tissue, CBD has also been shown to reduce inflammation and sebum production. CBC and THCV also appear to reduce sebum,” says Dr. Rae. In fact, one 2014 study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation demonstrated the anti-inflammatory effects of CBD on human skin cells in the laboratory. The researchers determined that CBD looks promising for treating acne.
However, not all cannabinoids may be beneficial in managing acne. Dr. Rae points out that in certain studies, CBG and CBGV actually increased sebum production.
Tips for healthy skin
Genetics may be the most prominent factor in maintaining clear skin, but a healthy lifestyle of sufficient sleep, sensible nutrition, and moderate exercise can also help maintain healthy skin.
Some other ways you can protect your body’s largest organ:
- Practice stress reduction techniques like yoga, meditation, and deep breathing
- Wash your face twice daily, but avoid over-washing
- Exfoliate once a week to slough off dead skin cells, open the pores, and boost collagen production
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day
- Steer clear of junk food and other possible dietary triggers
Bottom line on cannabis and acne
Cannabis consumers and medical marijuana patients can be confident that smoking weed is not likely to have a significant connection to acne. But that doesn’t mean there’s no role for the plant.
“There isn’t enough evidence to support the idea that cannabis smoking causes acne. There is, however, a growing body of promising evidence that cannabinoids and other oil extracted from the seed of the plant may be effective ingredients in a new generation of acne treatments,” says Dr. Rae.
While dermatologists may not be prescribing cannabis as a treatment, certain cannabinoids may ultimately be integrated into a complementary acne-fighting regime.
Learn about the different causes and risk factors for acne and the research on cannabis and acne.