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.
Do you remember the first time your skin broke out? If you’re like me, it happened in your early teens and made you feel so mortified that you faked sickness to avoid going out in public.
But pimply skin doesn’t always go away after the teenage years—more than 17 million Americans of all ages deal with acne.
Skin is the largest organ we have, and keeping it happy is important. While acne isn’t the worst or most dangerous skin condition out there, it can be painful and take a toll on your self-confidence.
We hear a lot about cannabis as a treatment for a range of skin conditions—from dry, chapped skin to more serious issues like rosacea and psoriasis, but what about using cannabis to help reduce adult acne? Can the plant work to clear your skin? Or does cannabis make it worse?
What Is Acne?
The Mayo Clinic describes acne as a skin condition caused when oil and dead skin cells block hair follicles, which are connected to oil glands. It causes:
All of the above can be painful and/or embarrassing. These breakouts tend to happen where hair follicles are most densely grouped, like on the face, chest, back and shoulders.
There are different types of acne, divided into two main groups:
- Non-inflammatory, when oil and dirt clog hair follicles causing whiteheads and blackheads.
- Inflammatory, which tends to be more painful and often driven by bacteria. The most serious is cystic acne in which puss-filled lumps appear right below the surface of the skin.
How Does Acne Develop?
Most cases of acne develop due to:
- Excess oil production
- Dead skin cells
- Too much hormone activity (This is why acne is so common during puberty.)
Oil glands (found in hair follicles, also known as pores) produce sebum, or oil, that works to moisturize skin and hair. Usually, these glands make an appropriate amount of oil. But sometimes, due to stress, poor personal hygiene or heightened hormone activity, these pores get clogged with bacteria, excess sebum and dead skin cells.
It’s the way pores handle being clogged that determines the type of acne. If the clogged pore closes up and bulges out of the skin, this is a whitehead. But if a clogged pore stays open, it’s a blackhead—both indicative of noninflammatory acne.
But when the walls of the clogged pores break down, and the sebum and bacteria seep under the surface of the skin, this causes pimples and cystic acne, or inflammatory acne.
Traditional Acne Treatments
There’s an entire category of the multi-billion-dollar beauty and skin care industry dedicated to treating acne. The options available are nearly endless, so let’s break it down into three main categories:
1. Over-the-Counter Topical Skin Care Treatments for Acne
Thousands of over-the-counter (OTC) topical skin care options for treating acne are available today. These generally include active ingredients like:
- Benzoyl peroxide
- Salicylic acid
While many of these OTC topical skin care options are affordable and accessible, there are other multistep topical programs that are more expensive, like Proactiv.
2. Prescription Medication for Acne
For more severe acne cases, something a little stronger may be required. A dermatologist can prescribe medication to help treat acne, including antibiotics, to get rid of bacteria and inflammation. Hormonal birth control is also known to help.
There are more intense acne prescriptions, like Isotretinoin, which work against the root causes of breakouts. But these prescriptions can have major side effects like:
- Severely dry skin
- Suicidal thoughts
- Inflammatory bowel disease
3. Holistic Acne Treatments
For those who want to keep it a little more natural, holistic treatments are an option, like adding more adaptogens to your diet. Adaptogens are found in certain plants and herbs—ginseng, for example—and:
- Have anti-inflammatory properties
- Assist in regulating hormones
- Help the body adapt to stress
Or if you’re looking for a topical holistic option, honey is a great antibacterial and antifungal that you can put directly on a breakout.
Can Cannabis Work to Alleviate Acne?
Speaking of holistic treatments for acne, what about cannabis? When it comes to marijuana, more research needs to be done to know for sure whether it can help clear up your complexion. We know cannabis shows much promise in treating skin conditions like psoriasis, but there isn’t much out there specifically on cannabis for acne.
That said, there are certain properties found in cannabis that could help fight some of the symptoms and root causes of acne. Marijuana is a strong anti-inflammatory, so it could aid against the painful swelling that comes with cystic acne.
And according to a 2008 study, all five major cannabinoids show strong antibacterial qualities, and this can help fight against acne.
These cannabinoids are:
All marijuana consumption methods, from vaping to tinctures and topicals, can provide anti-inflammatory and antibacterial results. But when considering which cannabis strain or product to go with when it comes to calming acne, a high-CBD variety is probably your best bet. This is because THC can increase testosterone production in the short term, which can cause additional oil production. Plus, CBD has been proven to be an incredibly strong anti-inflammatory substance.
Some marijuana strains with a high-CBD content you could try include:
If you’re new to cannabis and want to learn more, take a look at our Cannabis 101 index of articles. And if you have questions about cannabis, ask them and our community will answer.
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Cannabis may help ease acne, because it’s an anti-inflammatory. Marijuana may also help clear up your complexion, because it has antibacterial properties.