Cannabis can help a lot of conditions: you can find studies about weed for MS or the great results of cannabis when is used for psoriasis and eczema, but what about acne? Acne is one of the most common skin conditions in the United States. Over 50 million people suffer from uncomfortable breakouts each year. With so many people suffering, it’s no wonder why there are so many over-the-counter and prescription solutions out there. In this segment of our Skin Deep series, we’ll dive into a crucial question: does cannabis solve acne problems?
Surprisingly, acne is one of the more controversial skin conditions when it comes to cannabis treatments. Some dermatologists, such as Dr Arel Omstad, think that cannabis can actually cause an increase in acne. He explains in a Huffington Post interview that THC is known to increase the levels of oils in the skin, so therefore, it’s thought to contribute to acne in certain individuals. Dr Omstad’s claim is based on the immediate spike in testosterone levels you experience after consuming a little cannabis. More testosterone leads to more oil. Omstad explains:
I have seen acne and hair loss [from cannabis]. Not a lot, but I’ve seen it. – Omstad
This is a bit confusing, however. Research has shown that the herb does cause a sudden spike in testosterone, later followed by a drop in the hormone. An early study on mice found that testosterone levels spiked for 20 minutes to one hour after administration of oral THC. After that time, levels began to fall again. This all happened in a dose-dependent manner.
When the mice were given high doses of THC, the testosterone spikes were shorter and more intense. Lower doses of THC raised testosterone more marginally, but the spike lasted a bit longer.
Unfortunately, these studies were done in mice and not humans. So, we still don’t know if THC works in the exact same way in our species. Further, if the testosterone spike is only temporary, does this disrupt the skin enough to produce acne? It’s difficult to say and further investigations are needed.
Yet, one dermatologist points to an answer for the testosterone-acne question. In the same Huffington Post interview, another skin expert has the perfect rebuttal to Omstad’s claim. Dermatologist Dr Bobby Buka explains that the testosterone increase is around three to five%. This is too marginal to cause an acne flare-up. Buka explains that it would take a huge amount of cannabis to aggravate acne problems. He says:
We’re talking about buckets and buckets of weed. Nothing any human could smoke. – Buka
Buka, however, did call out something which might be trigger acne breakouts: sugar. He explains that nomming all night on sugary snacks can have a significant impact on the skin. He explains:
There is a link between high-glycemic index foods and acne. So you might draw the conclusion that people who get the munchies are eating more of those foods. – Buka
While some dermatologists are duking it out over whether or not THC triggers acne outbreaks, others are turning to a different part of the cannabis plant. While THC is known to increase oil production, CBD has the exact opposite effect. If you have really dry skin, chances are a little bump in our natural oils are a good thing. With acne, on the other hand, the body over-produces oil. This oil is known as sebum, and it’s excreted by the sebaceous glands in the skin. The term for the creation of sebum is “lipid synthesis.”
Back in 2010, one Hungarian scientist decided to put CBD to the test. Dr Tamas Biro isolated a group of skin cells and applied CBD. He wanted to see how the phytocannabinoid interacted with the natural endocannabinoids our own bodies produce. Endocannabinoids are a series of chemical compounds that help regulate hair growth, oil production, and immune response in the skin. Phytocannabinoids are the plant versions of these chemical compounds.
Turns out, endocannabinoids play a major role in determining how much sebum is produced in the skin. Too much of the endocannabinoid anandamide, our body’s own THC, leads to increased oil production. Not enough leads to dryness and conditions like eczema. When Brio applied non-psychoactive CBD to these skin cells, he noticed that anandamide decreased and oil production stopped. He explains:
[CBD] does not stimulate but inhibits lipid synthesis, especially if the lipid synthesis was previously upregulated, as for example in acne. It was very surprising, that a phytocannabinoid could prevent the action of the endocannabinoids. – Biro
This is good news for those with acne. If your body is producing too much sebum, CBD calms the sebaceous glands down. If you have access to some CBD oil or CBD plants, it’s fairly easy to make your own medicated topicals at home. This recipe for cannabis-infused coconut oil will set you off on the right track. Of course, if coconut oil doesn’t work for you, you’ll want to pick a better medium.
CBD may be difficult to come by for some. Fortunately, there’s another option: hemp seed oil. Hemp seed oil has been making headlines as the “holy grail for acne treatment“. The health benefits of hemp are immense. Like its smokable cousin, hemp is a very potent anti-inflammatory. It’s also chock-full of antioxidants and omega fatty acids. All three of these properties make it an excellent choice for skin health.
The plant’s inflammation-fighting capabilities help moderate the immune system, quelling puff, redness, and irritation in the skin. Antioxidants and omega fatty acids help fight cell damage caused by free radicals and encourage the healthy growth of new cells.
Yet, that’s not all. Quality hemp oil contains around 50 to 60% of your daily value of linoleic acid. Linoleic acid helps regulate the production of high-quality sebum. When you get a whitehead, the consistency of your sebum changes. It becomes sticky, hardens, and clogs pores. You need linolic acid in your diet to combat dry skin, whiteheads, blackheads, and acne.
The cool thing about hemp seed oil? It works when you eat it, and when you apply it topically. You can even make a facemask using hemp oil. To get started, Nutiva offers a nice organic, cold-pressed hempseed oil.
People get acne for a variety of reasons. Genetics play a role, and so do diet, hormones, and stress. Certain habits or foods that you eat may be causing you to break out. Luckily, there’s a fairly easy way to determine whether or not consuming cannabis or some other substance is causing your acne.
An anti-inflammatory elimination diet can be extremely useful in helping you figure out just what your body is reacting to. A functional medicine practitioner can walk you through the steps and help you understand what results of the diet mean.
You start by going on an anti-inflammatory diet for a designated period of time. An anti-inflammatory diet is a very strict diet protocol designed to eliminate all possible foods that may cause an immune reaction in your body. A nutritionist, doctor, or functional medicine practitioner will work with you to determine how long this phase of the diet should last.
After the initial diet period is over, you slowly begin to add in excluded foods. Then you pay attention to your body’s reaction. For example, if you eat dairy one day and then wake up with a breakout, you’ll know if your body is reacting to the dairy. You only add in one food group at a time, so you can get a better idea of what is causing specific reactions.
You can do this same thing with cannabis. The idea being that you refrain from smoking while on the anti-inflammatory diet. This helps reset your system and starts you off with a clean slate. Once you’re ready, reintroduce cannabis again. If you have a breakout, then you know that the herb might be causing a skin reaction.
Always work with a doctor or functional medicine practitioner while testing for diet/lifestyle sensitivities. They’ll be able to safely walk you through the process and help decode your body’s reactions. Further, since acne has various causes, you may not find success through the elimination process. Your doctor will be able to troubleshoot and find alternatives.
Have you used cannabis topicals for acne? How did they work? Share your story with us on social media or in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you.
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