Marijuana is pretty popular stuff these days. For years the debate has raged between those who claim that legalising marijuana will encourage more people to use it and that marijuana causes psychosis and hallucinations.
Then there’s the avid pot smokers who use marijuana to open their mind and gain insight into important questions, to relax, for creativity, to compose music, and possibly even improve their health…
Sale of marijuana is now legal in grocery stores in the US state of Colorado and hence I decided to answer the question of whether marijuana causes acne. However, there’s a problem. I don’t smoke pot myself and I have nothing against normal people who do enjoy marijuana. But there’s one group of pot smokers who are a real bunch of pests: the hard-core legalisation advocates.
They infiltrate ever single discussion board on the internet, so much so that proper science gets buried. Every single forum topic about acne inevitably degenerates into a completely unrelated debate about opening your mind to drugs, psychosis, the effect of marijuana on car accidents; all sorts of unrelated subjects.
Maybe you’ve noticed the hardcore pot legalisation activists bursting into every online discussion. Many acne patients are totally confused about whether marijuana causes or cures acne because of it. They’re almost as confused as they are about chocolate, which is actually extremely beneficial for acne.
So that’s why in this article we will answer the question of whether marijuana affects acne once and for all, and we will answer it purely using science.
Does cannabis increase testosterone?
Cannabis or marijuana is a herb derived from the three different species of the cannabis plant: cannabis sativa, cannabis indica, and the less common cannabis rederalis. Widely used cannabis plants contain a staggering 483 medicinal compounds that scientists have identified so far.
At least 84 of those compounds are cannabinoids and these are the all-important compounds for any pot smoker. Cannabinoids alter your brain and bodily functions by entering the bloodstream when smoked, and binding with cannabinoid receptors all around your body.
Many of these chemicals get you high, and trigger the physical effects like a ravenous appetite, a pounding heart, and muscle relaxation.
The most important cannabinoid of all is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC provides most of the high and cannabis users specifically hunt for cannabis with a strong CBD/THC ratio.
The more THC the better, and the less CBD the better since it cancels out THC’s mental effects. Hence, many plants these days have been selectively bred to produce larger amounts of THC.
Got all that? Now let’s move onto whether marijuana causes acne. The short answer is that no it doesn’t, and may even clear acne indirectly.
One common fear among acne patients is that smoking marijuana increases their testosterone levels. Testosterone is of course the main androgenic hormone in men, and it’s why both men and women suddenly get a faceful of acne in their teenage years. Testosterone and its derivative DHT stimulate your sebaceous glands to pump out more sebum and thus block your pores at high levels…
…but marijuana probably doesn’t increase testosterone levels and if anything smoking weed decreases levels. If you read this article on marijuana and acne then you’ll discover some dermatologist called Dr Ariel Ostad, who says that smoking, ingesting, or vaporising marijuana raises testosterone immediately by 3-5%. Specifically, he says that it’s the THC which does the trick. But he failed to cite a study and studies elsewhere totally contradict this assertion.
“Wacky baccy” is well known for messing with male hormonal health. For starters, marijuana is notorious for giving frequent smokers gynecomastia, AKA bitch tits or gyno, a growth of female breast tissue on a man’s chest caused by excessive estrogen. Estrogen is the female sex hormone and counteract the effects of testosterone.
It’s well established that cannabis smoke contains non-cannabinoid compounds which bind to estrogen receptors in the body, and this review said that a link between marijuana and gynecomastia is plausible. Pot smokers everywhere fear gyno and hence a common saying is that “doobies make boobies”.
There’s also piles of evidence for erectile dysfunction in regular marijuana smokers. One study found that erectile problems were twice as common in regular pot users and it’s a commonly reported side effect. Alongside weak blood flow, low testosterone is the number one cause of erectile dysfunction.
Some pretty nasty results there, but for acne they give indirect evidence that marijuana lowers testosterone levels, if anything.
Specific studies yield similar results. Animal studies show that marijuana shrinks the testes. This study found that marijuana cigarettes with a 2.8% concentration of THC lowered luteinising hormone, which is a precursor to testosterone. This study analysed testosterone levels directly, and found that smoking marijuana lowered testosterone and that the effect persisted for at least 24 hours.
One review included evidence that marijuana lowers testosterone levels, and concluded that “chronic marijuana use showed no significant effect on hormone concentrations in either men or women”. In some in-vitro studies, marijuana has been shown to directly inhibit testicular enzymes needed to create testosterone in the first place.
Basically, the studies on marijuana and testosterone are not conclusive in humans, but the chance that THC/marijuana increases testosterone is non-existent…
…but clearly, it should be stated from those horrific effects that lowering testosterone is often bad news for the rest of your health. I’ve had horrific acne in the past but I like to eat a high testosterone diet to get improved mental focus, more physical energy, and increased muscle mass.
High testosterone isn’t the end of the world for acne since it can be counteracted by eating more antioxidants, lowering insulin, and very importantly, increasing your vitamin A intake. So even if marijuana does increase testosterone, you can just work harder elsewhere, and 3-5% is not enough to cause oily skin.
Marijuana is famous for anti-inflammatory properties
Now here’s why a pot smoking habit can be actually good for your acne. Chronic inflammation is the number one disease behind all types of acne, and tetrahydrocannabinol is an emerging new treatment for inflammatory diseases.
Cannabis has been used as an alternative medicine for centuries and is especially enjoyed for pain relief and muscle relaxation among the chronically ill. Its anti-inflammatory powers are largely why there are such big campaigns raging for the legalisation of medicinal cannabis, as opposed to just recreational cannabis.
Cannabis can lower the activity of your entire immune system according to studies:
This study by scientists from ETH Zurich found that cannabis lowers inflammation well, but not just thanks to the psychoactive cannabinoids. Cannabis is actually high in a plant compound called beta caryophyllene. The scientists applied beta caryophyllene to rats with inflamed paws, the swelling and inflammation fell by 70%. Apparently beta caryophyllene stimulates the BCP receptor, which inhibits a cascade of inflammatory reactions across the body.
This review from 2009 analysed the entire issue of cannabis and inflammation and commented that cannabinoids could be a potential treatment for a variety of inflammatory diseases. Apparently, cannabis and its compounds can inhibit immune system pro inflammatory (and pro acne) chemicals directly and promote production of chemicals which regulate the immune system. The authors commented that “It is becoming increasingly clear that cannabinoid receptors… play a crucial role in the regulation of the immune system”
One cannabis derived compound is ajulemic acid (AJA), which is a synthetic derivative of THC designed to lower inflammation without causing a high. This study found that AJA inhibited the powerful pro-inflammatory chemical interleukin 1-beta. The scientists commented that this could explain why cannabis treats arthritis so well (which is a classic inflammatory disorder). This study found that AJA suppressed the production of interleukin-6 in human cells, which is interesting news because acne prone skin has much higher IL-6 levels than average.
THC itself was found to inhibit interleukin-6 in this study, along with many other pro-inflammatory chemicals like interleukin-1B, interleukin-8 and TNF-a.
Regular pot smokers were found to have less inflammation in this recent 2014 study. 9000 people were examined, 12% of whom said that they smoked pot on a regular basis, 40% of whom never did, and 48% who did so infrequently. Their levels of the inflammatory biomarker C – reactive protein were examined, and those who had smoked marijuana in the last month were revealed to have much lower levels. The evidence apparently “points towards possible anti-inflammatory effects of cannabis smoking”.
Basically, the evidence that regular marijuana usage can cut inflammation is overwhelming.
In fact, it is estimated that 10 to 20 percent of patients with multiple sclerosis, epilepsy chronic pain, and AIDS have admitted to smoking cannabis for therapeutic purposes. It seems that both THC and other cannabis plant compounds play a part.
The science is solid and well established, the debate of the legalisation of medicinal marijuana is more due to fear of psychosis, hallucinations and whispering voices in the head. Hence why they developed ajulemic acid which doesn’t have those effects.
This doesn’t mean you have to smoke marijuana to cure acne, because eliminating sugar and eating omega 3s will also slash inflammation. But it does mean that the lowered inflammation can cancel out any other acne causing problems in marijuana.
Does marijuana smoke pump you full of free radicals?
As we discussed in this article, tobacco smoking really does cause acne as with a single puff on a cigarette you can ingest 100 trillion free radicals. Free radicals cause acne by depleting antioxidants, which are needed to protect your skin. Marijuana smoke does contain some free radicals if the leaves hit the combustion rate of 230 degrees Celsius, which they usually do when smoked…
…but cannabis also downregulates immune system cytokines in your body which generate free radicals, such as neutrophils. Furthermore, tobacco is nutritionally bereft. Cannabis contains THC and cannabinoids, which can further reduce the harm from free radicals as they have antioxidant properties. Thus the overall effect of marijuana on acne is neutral.
This study found that cannabis is generally far less carcinogenic (cancer-causing) than tobacco. Why does this matter? Because in the case of cigarettes, almost all of its carcinogenicity is derived from its colossal quantities of free radicals.
If cannabis doesn’t do the same, that’s great news for all acne patients. Cannabis smoke actually contains over 50 carcinogens like nitrosamines, reactive aldehydes, and polycylic hydrocarbons. But marijuana can still kill many types of human cancer cells. It’s clear that the plant compounds in cannabis are cancelling the free radicals out. It’s the opposite of tobacco, which is a lung-cancer, throat cancer causing monstrosity.
When it comes to free radicals, it’s also critical that you pick vaporising rather than smoking for your marijuana delivery system. Cigarettes are marijuana leaves rolled up, combusted, and smoked, but vaporising heats the cannabis to 180c to 200c, which is below the combustion point where free radical generation kicks in.
In this interesting study by San Francisco scientists, 18 patients enrolled for six days and received three different doses of either smoked or vaporised cannabis, three times a day. Their plasma concentrations of THC were measured along with exhaled levels of carbon monoxide (CO), a major pollutant from marijuana smoke.
Plasma concentrations of the psychoactive THC increased equally in the vaporising and smoking groups. But vaping caused little to no exhalation of carbon monoxide whereas smoking caused tons of it.
Dr Abrams, the study lead author, said “Using CO as an indicator, there was virtually no exposure to harmful combustion products using the vaporizing device. Since it replicates smoking’s efficiency at producing the desired THC effect using smaller amounts of the active ingredient as opposed to pill forms, this device has great potential for improving the therapeutic utility of THC”.
In other words, you get the high of cannabis without any of the harmful by-products like free radicals. The participants also answered a survey about their experiences. Both groups rated the high they got from the marijuana and the vaporising group was just as satisfied. Furthermore, patients preferred vaporising to smoking by a significant majority, thanks to greater efficiency and fewer side effects.
This study gives us good evidence that vaporising marijuana produces less free radicals, since many of the other harmful by-products of combustion were reduced. Hence, marijuana is generally neutral for free radicals when smoked but could actually be positive for acne when vaporised.
Stress hormones and collagen damage
Marijuana smoke is high in hydrocarbons, which upon contact with your skin are known to damage the production of collagen. That’s bad news for acne patients, because collagen helps your old acne to fade away.
Collagen also provides broad structural strength against air pollution, inflammation and even acne-causing chemicals in cosmetics such as perfume. Damage to collagen can also age you prematurely because the emergence of winkles, sagging, and so on is partly caused by a consistent drop in collagen levels from age 25 onwards.
Secondly, many pot users enjoy marijuana because it helps them to relax, but marijuana is well known for increasing stress hormones. Patients in this study smoked a marijuana joint containing THC at 2.8% concentrations and afterwards their cortisol levels spiked sharply. This study analysed 10 marijuana addicts and found that their cortisol levels were significantly higher than people who didn’t smoke weed.
What this means is that even if you feel chilled out, or “chillaxed”, your stress hormones might still be surging upwards. That’s especially true if you’re experiencing the classic mental side effects like stress, anxiety and panic attacks.
It’s possible that this mental stress activated by cannabinoid receptor stimulation increases stress hormones, or it’s possible that the cannabinoids in marijuana directly stimulate your body to secrete cortisol regardless of any mental anxiety.
If you haven’t read this article yet, then cortisol is the main stress hormone and is one of the worst hormones behind acne full stop. Cortisol impairs your digestion, prevents old acne from healing, and causes permanently elevated blood sugar.
Cortisol can even lead to negative changes in the composition of your gut bacteria, and if you’ve read my eBook Annihilate Your Acne, then you’ll know that healthy gut bacteria is one of the most interesting new areas of acne research.
For those reasons, it’s bad news for acne if smoking marijuana can increase cortisol levels…
…but overall, the increase in stress hormones seems to be mild. The study above was tested on addicts too; addictions of all kinds whether to tobacco or nicotine are well known to stimulate stress hormone release when left unsatisfied.
Furthermore, the acne problems will be counteracted by marijuana’s anti-inflammatory benefits. This study also analysed the effect of a cannabinoid called Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ-9-THC) on the cortisol response. Scientists compared the effect of Δ-9-THC on 40 frequent cannabis smokers and 36 healthy control subjects. As expected, ingestion of Δ-9-THC led to increased secretion of cortisol from the adrenal glands and into the blood.
But here’s an interesting point: the rise in cortisol was blunted in those who smoked marijuana regularly. The scientists said that “These group differences may be related to the development of tolerance to the neuroendocrine effects of cannabinoids”. In other words, the increase in stress hormones will be less of a problem for acne if you smoke marijuana regularly. With the right strategies and a little tactical thinking you can make marijuana much safer for acne.
The same applies to the warping of collagen; there’s no evidence it will seriously damage your skin and additionally, the problem of smoke wafting around and reacting with your collagen is eliminated if you switch to vaporisation. Overall these two problems are pretty much non-entities for acne patients.
There you have it. Whether you’re pro cannabis or against it or just don’t care, the science shows that “wacky baccy” is safe and even beneficial for acne overall. It probably can cause acne but only if there’s smoke billowing about everywhere.
In any case the warping effect on collagen will only damage your acne slightly and the free radical intake from even a marijuana cigarette is dwarfed by that of tobacco. If you’re a regular cannabis smoker then also remember to vaporise your marijuana, since it’s easily the safest method for acne. Preferably, you’ll use a clean glass vaporiser rather than a plastic one, but any product beats smoking it.
Sleeping for an extra hour or two can have miraculous effects on acne. You’re more likely to get acne from worrying about marijuana than from smoking it.
Don’t worry about marijuana unless you’re dead sure of problems from your experiences with it.
Thanks for reading!