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?
WHAT IS ACNE?
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.
CANNABIS AND ACNE
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  . 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.
WHAT THE SCIENCE SAYS ABOUT CBD FOR ACNE
In 2014, the Journal of Clinical Investigation published a research article which states  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  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.
WHAT ABOUT THC AND ACNE?
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.
CBD OIL AND HEMP SEED OIL
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  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.
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.