Marijuana is good for you, marijuana is bad for you, marijuana makes no difference. These are the contradictory lessons we are taught about our favorite drug, and we are left on our own to decide which is most true.
In reality, they all are. Sometimes cannabis helps, just like sometimes it isn’t the world’s smartest idea. And sometimes it’s Switzerland, uncommitted to any moral ground whatsoever. Above all, cannabis is complex. And that applies to the effect it has on your skin.
So what do we know about pot, complexion, and acne? If you have skin problems, is it wise to toke? And are their precautions you can take to keep your cheeks rosy and your skin blemish-free?
The Huffington Post explored these questions in 2013. The answers may surprise you.
Does Marijuana Cause Acne?
Yes, it does. Well, in theory. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the psychoactive ingredient in the cannabis plant, and it is known to raise testosterone levels when smoked, vaporized, or consumed by other means.
Higher testosterone causes oil glands in the skin to make more sebum oil, and that in turn leads to acne breakouts. Higher testosterone can also cause hair loss on the head or excess hair growth elsewhere, said Dr. Bobby Buka and Dr. Ariel Ostad, two New York City dermatologists.
“I have seen acne and hair loss,” Ostad said. “Not a lot, but I’ve seen it.”
But the doctors caution that the small testosterone boost caused by marijuana, no more than 5 percent, is too small to take the blame for most acne flare-ups or hair problems.
“We’re talking about buckets and buckets of weed,” Ostad said. “Nothing any human could smoke.”
Another concern related to acne is that cannabis use sparks the munchies, and people who eat high-sugar junk stand a greater risk of acne, he said.
“There is a link between high-glycemic index foods and acne,” he said. “So you might draw the conclusion that people who get the munchies are getting more of those foods.”
What’s more, exposure to marijuana smoke can age your skin more quickly. This is because the carcinogens contained in that smoke can block your cells from making new collagen. Certain skin conditions also react poorly to marijuana smoke.
Of course, there’s an easy solution to that problem: vaporize or eat your cannabis. Buka and Ostad both recommend vaporizers over toking.
Can Marijuana Help Your Skin?
As much as THC appears harmful to your skin, science shows it can also help. Marijuana is a highly effective anti-inflammatory agent and antioxidant, which means it could have anti-aging properties. According to Buka, moderate consumption could be as beneficial as a daily glass of wine.
But again, the doctors note that there’s a big difference between vaping and toking.
“The delivery system is really critical,” Buka said. “Even a bong would be preferable.” Why a bong? Because it keeps smoke away from your face.
Ostad also noted that THC interacts naturally with our body’s brain receptors. It can produce euphoria and other pleasant feelings, and in small doses it is a proven treatment for depression.
“Those THC receptors actually can lead to increased production of neurotransmitters that make us feel better, like serotonin,” he said.
How Can You Protect Your Skin?
A key element to saving your skin is stress reduction. If marijuana helps with stress, it might also help your skin, preventing acne, eczema, and rosacea. “My pot smokers are by and large a mellower group of people,” Buka said. Marijuana may also be helpful as a topical treatment for inflammatory skin conditions, according to limited studies.
Aside from those precautions, the doctors recommended vaping over smoking. If you choose to toke anyway, they suggest covering your skin with a thick moisturizer first.