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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.

Marijuana Might Be Affecting Your Skin. And Not In The Ways You Thought

Weed, grass, Mary Jane, pot. call it whatever you’d like, but marijuana has been around long before 1937’s “Reefer Madness” warned of its (arguably overblown) deleterious effects. These days it’s more common than ever, thanks in part to its medicinal uses. But are there beauty ramifications that come with the decision to smoke?

We decided to find out. Whether or not lighting up is your thing, it doesn’t hurt to know exactly what marijuana can do to your skin and appearance. So we spoke to two New York-based dermatologists, Dr. Bobby Buka and Dr. Ariel Ostad, and found out some surprising facts about America’s most commonly used illicit drug.

The THC in marijuana increases your testosterone levels. which could lead to acne.

Let’s start with the bad news. The most potent ingredient in cannabis, also known as marijuana, is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). When you smoke, vaporize or otherwise ingest it, there’s an immediate increase in testosterone levels, says Dr. Ostad. As a result, these increased testosterone levels can cause your skin’s oil glands to produce more sebum oil, which can lead to breakouts in people predisposed to acne. People who are chronic users of marijuana can also experience hair loss on the scalp or even excess hair growth in other parts of their bodies due to this testosterone jump, Dr. Ostad adds. “I have seen acne and hair loss,” he says, “not a lot, but I’ve seen it.”

However, Dr. Buka says that the testosterone increase — which is in the order of 3 to 5 percent — is too marginal to cause a flare up of acne or unusual hair growth patterns. “We’re talking about buckets and buckets of weed,” he says. “Nothing any human could smoke.” (We’ll leave that judgement call to you.)

Another thing to watch out for? Packing in sugar-filled snacks while using marijuana. “There is a link between high-glycemic index foods and acne,” he says. “So you might draw the conclusion that people who get the munchies are eating more of those foods.”

Plus, the smoke can make your skin age more rapidly.

Something both Dr. Ostad and Dr. Buka do agree on? The harmful effects of the marijuana smoke itself, which contains many of the same carcinogens as cigarette smoke (though studies have shown that THC actually protects against pro-carcinogens, unlike nicotine). These hydrocarbons can inhibit cells that are chiefly responsible for making new collagen. Meaning: Exposing your skin to marijuana smoke can make it age more rapidly. The smoke from pot can also worsen skin conditions like psoriasis and rosacea, says Dr. Buka.

But THC is also anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant, and it has potential anti-aging properties.

Don’t make a judgement call just yet — more and more, people are discovering the upside of getting high. Even though THC may cause an increase in testosterone levels, it’s also gaining a reputation as an anti-inflammatory agent and an antioxidant in the medical world. So while the actual smoke from marijuana can suppress collagen production, some studies have shown that the THC itself has anti-aging properties (thanks to those antioxidants, which neutralize the damaging effects of free radical oxygen particles). Dr. Buka even likens moderate weed consumption with drinking a glass of red wine.

However, Dr. Buka notes, “The delivery system is really critical.” He recommends using a vaporizer if you’re dead-set on using marijuana and want to enjoy its supposed anti-inflammatory benefits, adding, “Even a bong would be preferable [to smoking].” (Remember: There is no fundamental difference between marijuana smoke and cigarette smoke when it comes to skin, according to Dr. Buka.)

Additionally, Dr. Ostad points out that we naturally have THC receptors in our brains, which means that cannabinoids, the compounds present in cannabis, aren’t foreign to our systems. “Those THC receptors actually can lead to increased production of neurotransmitters that make us feel better, like serotonin,” he says. Indeed, neuroscientists who have looked into the connection between cannabis and depression have found that low doses of THC are associated with a drop in depressive symptoms. But it’s important to note that too much can actually have the opposite effect.

Dr. Buka adds that stress seems to have negative effects on skin conditions across the board — including acne, eczema and rosacea — and reducing that stress can be a critical step to clearing up skin. “My pot smokers are by and large a mellower group of patients,” he says.

Studies have also shown that cannabinoids can be used topically for the treatment of inflammatory skin diseases (though these studies have been done in mice, not people).

So if you’re going to smoke.

If after weighing the pros and cons, you decide you’d like to reap the benefits of marijuana, choose your method wisely. Like we said, Dr. Buka recommends using a vaporizer to avoid the carcinogenic smoke of a marijuana cigarette. However, if you must smoke it, he suggests making sure your skin is protected as much as possible with a thick moisturizer (he likes the Ultra Repair Cream by First Aid Beauty).

The bottom line: There are mixed philosophies when it comes to both the positive and negative effects of marijuana on the skin, so choose wisely — and be mindful of your local laws.

Stay informed:

CLARIFICATION: This article was amended to reflect that marijuana smoke and cigarette smoke do not cause the same exact carcinogenic effect.

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Marijuana Might Be Affecting Your Skin. And Not In The Ways You Thought Weed, grass, Mary Jane, pot. call it whatever you’d like, but marijuana has been around long before 1937’s “Reefer Madness”