cannabis acne

Can Cannabis Help Treat Acne?

Acne is a troubling skin condition that no one enjoys. Part of the issue is that treatments can come with major side effects, or can fail to produce results altogether. When it comes to cannabis and its cannabinoids, is the plant able to reduce symptoms or prevent acne breakouts?


Acne is a term that compiles a series of dermatological conditions. Blackheads, pimples, whiteheads, and cysts all fall under the term. It’s the most common skin condition in America, and potentially in the world.

Most people have had acne in one form or another at some stage in their lives. It occurs when skin secretions clog up the pores, and it may be more outwardly noticeable if you have greasy/oily skin, which happens mostly during the teenage years. This is thanks to increased hormonal activity during adolescence. It can lead to scarring if left untreated, and it is also a very common cause of teenage depression. This is why, for many years, we have seen the market flooded with different cleansers, moisturisers, and exfoliators to combat and prevent acne. But none of these work for everyone, and they don’t seem to fully eliminate the problem. This is why researchers have begun to explore cannabis as a potential option.


The endocannabinoid system (ECS) exists all throughout the human body—in the central nervous system, the immune system, and yes, even the skin. Among other functions, the ECS is believed to help control the production and health of skin cells. In fact, sebaceous glands (those responsible for secreting oil into hair follicles) have been shown to feature cannabinoid receptors [1] . This consequently suggests that cannabinoids, both internal and/or external, may affect their normal functioning. Being that the endocannabinoid system’s function is to keep everything in balance, it’s possible that it could prove to be a target for normalising oil production in the sebaceous glands.


In 2014, the Journal of Clinical Investigation published a research article which states [2] that CBD produces “a unique ‘trinity of cellular anti-acne actions’”. These actions include: normalising the metabolic formation of fat produced by “pro-acne” agents, suppressing skin cell proliferation, and preventing proinflammatory cytokine production. The researchers go on to suggest that CBD’s proposed antiproliferative effect on human sebocytes is “expected to greatly reduce sebum production in vivo”. They also bring into context CBD’s proposed antibacterial potential, referencing a study [3] in which CBD displayed “remarkable antibacterial activity” on hyperproliferative keratinocytes.

Even with these intriguing results, far too many reviews reference preclinical and preliminary clinical data. A need for more in-depth study is warranted.

Now that we have a better idea of what the science says about CBD, it’s worth looking into its psychotropic sister cannabinoid, THC. After all, the cannabis plant is much more than just CBD, or just cannabinoids for that matter.


In a Huffington Post interview, Dr. Ariel Ostad states that THC increases levels of sebum indirectly by increasing levels of testosterone when smoking. As such, she suggests that those predisposed to acne may be at a greater risk of developing breakouts when enjoying THC-rich cannabis. That said, fellow dermatologist Dr. Bobby Buka mentions that this 3–5% increase in testosterone is not enough to directly stimulate acne or unusual hair growth.

The above scientific findings are consistent with others in that they are _inconsistent_. Given THC’s illicit status in many parts of the world, there simply haven’t been enough large-scale clinical trials, or even preclinical trials, on THC for acne and other skin conditions. All things considered, acne sufferers who want to use cannabinoids should proceed with caution.


There are a lot of people who don’t live somewhere with an established cannabis market or legal framework. However, CBD oil is exponentially gaining steam, and can be purchased legally in brick-and-mortar shops and online. Just make sure it’s high-quality, hemp-derived CBD oil containing negligible levels of THC (exact amounts will vary based on jurisdiction).

Aside from cannabinoids, individuals can capitalise on the nutritious properties of hemp seed oil. Hemp seed oil is full of antioxidants, rich in omega fatty acids, and contains more than 50% of your daily linoleic acid. This last one is particularly intriguing, as low levels of the acid are linked to acne breakouts. Authors of a 2009 review published [4] in Dermato-Endocrinology propose that “linoleic acid is directly involved in the sebaceous lipid synthesis”, and that low levels of the acid are a risk factor for comedone (black head/white head) production and may increase “impairment of the epidermal barrier function”.

Although hemp seed oil on its own doesn’t contain any cannabinoids, it can be infused with CBD to create a formula rich in natural hemp constituents.

While we can’t make any hard and fast conclusions about using cannabis for acne, we can look to current scientific studies and reviews, as well as recommendations from dermatologists and other medical professionals. Hopefully, the future of cannabis for acne is clear and bright.

Recent research has led to some interesting findings regarding how cannabis affects acne. Learn how CBD may be the end of those pesky pimples.

Can CBD Help Treat Acne?

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People have used natural treatments for thousands of years to promote beautiful, healthy skin. One option that’s increasing in popularity is cannabidiol (CBD), a compound derived from the cannabis plant.

Products containing CBD are everywhere — from topical pain relievers to skin softeners and potential acne remedies.

Read on for more information about CBD as a potential acne treatment and how to find high-quality products.

Acne is a condition that occurs when excess oil, dirt, and dead skin cells clog pores. The bacteria Propionibacterium acnes can build up in the pores, causing angry, red blemishes.

With this in mind, acne treatment involves keeping the skin clean, free from acne-causing bacteria, and cutting back on excess oil that can clog the skin.

Most of the research surrounding acne and CBD is related to CBD’s power in stopping the processes known to cause acne, such as excess oil buildup. One of the most promising studies was published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation .

In this study, researchers measured the effects of CBD compounds on human skin samples and oil-producing glands in a laboratory.

The researchers found that CBD inhibited oil production and also had anti-inflammatory effects on oil-producing glands. They concluded CBD was a “promising therapeutic agent” for acne treatment.

Does it work for body acne?

Because body acne occurs by the same mechanisms that facial acne does, it’s possible that CBD-containing products could help reduce body acne. Many skin care product manufacturers incorporate CBD into soap bars or body washes.

Although CBD products may not be specifically marketed to people with body acne, their antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties may provide some benefit.

Acne scars occur due to underlying disruptions in the skin caused by enlarged pimples and skin picking.

A study published in the journal La Clinica Terapeutica studied 20 participants who had scars related to psoriasis and atopic dermatitis. The participants applied CBD-enriched ointment to scarred areas of skin twice daily for three months.

After the three-month period, the researchers found that the CBD ointment significantly improved the skin’s appearance in categories like elasticity and hydration.

Although the study was small and not performed on those with acne scars, it does show promise that CBD products could help reduce the appearance of acne scars.

CBD may be helpful in treating other skin woes, too. Here are some examples.


A study published in the journal PeerJ Life & Environment found promising results for those who have psoriasis. The study found that cannabinoid receptors in the skin have the power to reduce excess skin cell growth, a common problem in those with psoriasis.

The researchers theorized that cannabinoids could have the potential to “shut off” the receptors that caused excess skin cell buildup in people with psoriasis.

Because the researchers didn’t conduct the study on living skin — they used human cadaver skin — it’s hard to say if they could duplicate the results. However, the study shows promise for those hoping to use CBD products to reduce their psoriasis symptoms.

Itchy skin conditions

According to the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (JAAD), one of the most promising uses for CBD is in the treatment of itchy skin.

The journal cited a 2005 study that found 81 percent of hemodialysis patients with itchy skin who used a CBD-containing cream experienced complete resolution of their symptoms.

The authors of the JAAD article theorized that cannabinoids have the power to turn off signals that transmit to the brain from nerve endings in the skin that indicate skin itching. When coupled with skin-soothing ingredients in lotions and oils, the effect can be itch-relieving.

Research on CBD’s safety published in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research found CBD has a “favorable safety profile.”

The researchers found the most commonly reported side effects were fatigue, diarrhea, and appetite changes. However, these side effects are largely for people who ingest CBD, not for those who apply it topically.

It’s possible that a person could experience an allergic reaction to topically applied CBD.

If you have symptoms like skin swelling, itching, or skin peeling after applying CBD-containing products, wash the affected area with soap and water. You may wish to apply cold compresses to soothe irritated skin.

Discontinue use of CBD products if you think you’ve had an allergic reaction.

Many skin care manufacturers are beginning to sell CBD products. Some of the products you can currently purchase include:

  • Flora + Bast Age Adapting CBD Serum, $77 at This oil-only serum is designed to clear acne blemishes and smooth skin.
  • Kiehl’s Cannabis Sativa Seed Oil Herbal Concentrate, $49 at This facial oil is designed to reduce skin redness and decrease blemishes.
  • Myaderm’s CBD Calming Cream, $24.95 at This skin-soothing cream is intended to moisturize dry skin areas and soothe acne-related redness.

A word of caution

Lots of manufacturers are eager to add their products to the CBD oil craze. Unfortunately, not all contain CBD as marketed, according to a research study published in the journal JAMA .

In this study, the researchers tested 84 products that had a CBD label. They found 26 percent of the products tested had less CBD oil than advertised, which could affect how well the product works.

The good news is the researchers did find that oil formulations containing CBD were most commonly correctly labeled. Most acne treatments are oils.

As a consumer, one way you can ensure your product is high-quality is to buy it from a company that uses an independent laboratory to confirm the labeling.

In 2018, the Congress passed a bill called the Agricultural Improvement Act, or Farm Bill. This act made industrial hemp legal at the federal level.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) , if a cannabis plant has less than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), it’s considered to be hemp. If it has more than 0.3 percent THC, it’s considered to be marijuana.

THC is the psychoactive compound in marijuana that causes a high. CBD, however, doesn’t cause a high.

Because CBD can be derived from hemp or marijuana, the legality over products can be confusing.

Whether you can get CBD skin care products delivered to your home or buy them in a store depends on where you live. Your state and local laws may dictate if you can legally buy and use CBD products.

To say that CBD products are an effective treatment for acne, dermatologists need large-scale studies on living skin. Until researchers conduct those, smaller laboratory studies do show promise.

If you do buy CBD products for acne, read the labels carefully, and buy from reputable businesses whose products are tested in independent laboratories.

Is CBD Legal? Hemp-derived CBD products (with less than 0.3 percent THC) are legal on the federal level, but are still illegal under some state laws. Marijuana-derived CBD products are illegal on the federal level, but are legal under some state laws. Check your state’s laws and those of anywhere you travel. Keep in mind that nonprescription CBD products are not FDA-approved, and may be inaccurately labeled.

CBD may be a promising treatment for acne and other skin conditions. More research is needed, but CBD may have anti-inflammatory properties and help reduce oil production.