Marijuana is rapidly being legalized across North America, and more people are enjoying the chance to indulge and experiment with weed more regularly. We know that weed is statistically safer and healthier than alcohol and cigarettes, and how much cigarettes damage the skin. But what does marijuana do for the skin? Does weed make you break out?
Unfortunately, the prohibition of marijuana in the US has led to a shortage of long-term scientific research on how exactly it affects the body. And a number of the scientific studies done so far show completely different outcomes, probably because they have been very small-scale studies of self-identified marijuana smokers.
As a result, there are a lot of things we simply don't know conclusively about the physical and chemical effects of marijuana. But there are a few health and beauty-related aspects of weed use that are backed up by current science. Here's what we know so far.
Marijuana smoke emits as many or more cancer-causing agents as smoking tobacco. However, the body processes nicotine and cannabis differently, and there is some evidence that nicotine is a unique causative agent in lung cancer, while some cannabinoids may actually help to prevent cancer.
Either way, the act of lighting up emits hydrocarbons that damage the structure of the collagen in your skin and can lead to premature aging. Collagen gives the skin a supple, moist, youthful quality that most people want to hold on to for as long as possible.
The act of burning marijuana leaves releases free radicals that can damage your body's cells inside and out. Free radicals damage cells at the molecular level, and cause a domino effect of cascading damage, as free radicals create more free radicals and the damage spreads. Free radicals can also contribute to skin damage and premature aging.
There is also the very real possibility that people who are experiencing a lot of stress are more likely to use, or increase their use of, marijuana. And there is real scientific evidence that stress can cause breakouts. So it's possible that the noticeable correlation between acne and marijuana isn't causative at all, and that the acne and marijuana use are both correlated to chronic stress.
So we have all this evidence that smoking weed damages the skin due to the emission of hydrocarbons, the creation of free radicals, and the perpetuation of unhealthy food choices. But that's only half the story.
Recent studies show that human sebaceous glands (the oil glands at the hair follicles all over our bodies) have individual cannabinoid receptors. Science is discovering that cannabinoids may have surprising benefits for our skin. They inhibit keratinocyte proliferation, which can help ease symptoms of psoriasis, eczema, and rosacea.
More and more medical research is exploring the anti-inflammatory effects of THC. While inflammation is associated with health problems throughout the body, THC's anti-inflammatory effects specifically on our sebocytes (oil-producing glands) may point to it as being a potential treatment for acne.
We all know this to be true anecdotally, but there is also some evidence to back it up.
We just presented all the ways that weed can cause acne, but there is growing evidence that it may also be used to help prevent it.
A recent study shows that cannabichromene may actually help reduce excess lipid production in the skin, reducing the oils that lead to acne. This inhibited oil production along with the anti-inflammatory properties of THC mean that weed may actually help calm your skin and prevent breakouts.
With so many perplexing and contradictory scientific studies, it's no wonder that people are confused about the exact effects of marijuana on the body and on our skin. Most of our studies to date are based on mice, or on small groups of college students who admit to smoking weed, and that's simply not enough research to prove anything conclusively.
As far as we know right now, no, weed does not cause acne breakouts. The stress and unhealthy foods that are often associated with marijuana use DO cause breakouts, though. And if you're concerned about the effects of weed on your appearance and beauty, the science is clear: Go ahead and use marijuana in small doses, but don't smoke it.
In fact, marijuana in small doses, when vaporized or eaten, may actually boost your beauty, with some skin-healing benefits. So go ahead and indulge in weed if you like, but avoid the negative consequences for your skin by not smoking it.