In this post, I’ll discuss the effects that chronic marijuana use can have on hair loss. This will include a look at the two major ways that cannabis can affect hair health and the available scientific data.
At the end of the article I will offer my recommendations for cannabis users who are concerned about its effect on hair loss.
Marijuana: A Cure-All or Threat?
Cannabis, also referred to as marijuana, is a popular recreational drug that’s slowly finding its legal footing in a number of countries, including the United States, Canada, Portugal, the Netherlands and Spain. It’s components are known to stop seizures, treat glaucoma, and reduce inflammation.
And, while many tout the drug as a cure-all, its advocates often gloss over the negative consequences of cannabis consumption. There are considerable risks for those under 25 when it comes to memory, learning, addiction processes in the brain.
One ill effect that’s not commonly talked about is hair loss.
That’s right – though its link to regular marijuana consumption is far from proven, there is some evidence to suggest such a link could exist.
Two Ways Regular Marijuana Use Can Be Linked to Hair Loss
The effects of marijuana on hair health can be divided into two categories. First, there are the direct physiological effects of cannabis consumption in the human body. Secondly, the knock-on effects that its regular use can have on lifestyle and nutrition choices. More research is needed, but there is enough evidence that these two categories to teach consumers to make informed choices.
Let’s look at each of these in turn.
Direct physiological effects
The large majority of cannabis users smoke the plant, either on its own or mixed with tobacco. Either way, the combustion that is involved leads to the release of thousands of highly toxic substances. These are absorbed through the blood stream and travel through the entire body, including the scalp.
And there are some recent studies that are suggesting, for the first time, that chronic smokers do suffer from an increased risk of developing pattern baldness.
For example a population survey out of Taiwan found that regular smoking was a predictor of pattern baldness among men, while another one out of Jordan found that regular smokers were more likely to develop prematurely gray hair before turning 30.
Now granted, these studies have been done with regular tobacco users, but the results almost certainly carry over to cannabis users for two reasons. Firstly, the chemical composition of tobacco and cannabis is qualitatively similar and b) the large majority of cannabis smokers mix it in with tobacco.
While these population-level studies are very interesting, fascinating findings are also coming from researchers studying the direct physiological effects of cannabis on the health follicles. The take-away message is that cannabis consumption negatively affects follicle cell growth.
Throughout the cycle of hair growth, the production of new cells plays a key role. In fact, cell development is a major part of the anagen phase of hair growth.
So how does cannabis enter this story?
Cannabinoid receptors are located throughout the body, and they are involved in many physiological processes. These include appetite, pain-sensation, mood, and memory.
The body produces its own cannabinoids – known as endocannabinoids – which attach to the cannabinoid receptors in various organs, including the hair follicles. THC found within marijuana is known as an exocannabinoid, and it attaches to the cannabinoid receptors just like endocannabinoids do.
A study performed in 2007 by researchers at the University of Debrecen found that endo- and exocannabinoids inhibit growth of the human hair follicle (HF).
As discovered by the researchers, “the prototypic endocannabinoid, AEA (which may even be produced within human HF), and … the exocannabinoid, THC, both inhibit human hair shaft elongation and induce apoptosis-driven HF involution (catagen) in vitro”.
In simplest terms, taking in cannabinoids can inhibit the proper development and growth of the human hair shaft and induce hair loss.
As can be seen above, this is increases the percentage of hairs in the catagen or involution phase of the hair cycle. As the amount of AEA (exocannabinoid) increases, so too does the percentage of hair follicles in catagen phase.
Cortisol is a hormone produced within the human body during periods of stress – either physical or emotional. Contrary to popular belief, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), can actually increase cortisol levels.
So users of cannabis who consume the drug as a way of coping with stress, might inadvertently be raising their stress levels even higher. This might lead them to seek out more of the drug, further raising their cortisol levels and leading to a vicious cycle of psychological dependency and permanently raised stress levels.
In relation to hair loss, this could – probably in combination with other factors – precipitate a condition known as telogen effluvium.
This is an acute type of hair loss that occurs when the hair follicles enter the telogen phase of the cycle prematurely. It can be due to various reasons (illness, injury, medications, extreme diets), but stress is very important and a common underlying thread in many of them.
Another indirect way in which regular cannabis use can affect hair health, is through the nutritional choices its users make. It is no secret that being high can lead to binge eating, the consumption of junk food, and weight gain.
And the importance of a healthy diet, as well as the elimination of acidic junk food is something we have covered extensively in this blog. Acidic foods, as well as junk food with a high glycemic index are very likely part of the reason pattern baldness is so prevalent in modern industrialized societies.
Finally, if you are suffering from hair loss, then then the obvious first step to stopping or reversing it is being motivated to do so. The best way of dealing with hair loss is through a holistic, multi-pronged approach that will involve changes in diet, lifestyle, shampoo, the use of supplements etc.
To do all this you need to be sufficiently motivated and organized.
This might seem blindingly obvious, but if you are a regular marijuana user think back to how motivated you were last time you were high.
Scientists confirm what the man on the street knows, and have even given this condition a name: cannabis amotivational syndrome.
What You Can Do to Combat Marijuana-Linked Hair Loss
If you are concerned that your hair loss is linked to marijuana use, there are a few things you can do to address this:
Decrease Marijuana Usage
While stopping use altogether may yield more significant results, many users are wary of doing so. This is especially true for those using marijuana for medicinal purposes.
If you use marijuana medicinally, stopping the drug entirely may lead to the medical condition you are treating flaring up again. So the sensible middle road would be to reduce consumption to a level that allows the symptoms of the condition to stay under control, while also lowering the adverse events of the drug itself.
Consume cannabis via routes that don’t involve combustion
As we discussed above, a large part of the damage done by cannabis is related to the thousands of harmful chemicals, including many carcinogens, that are released during the process of combustion.
A popular route of use is vaporization, where cannabis is heated at a far lower temperature than during combustion. The resulting vapor damages the lung tissue because of the chemicals needed for combustion. Deaths have occurred because of use.
The THC vaping raises even more concern because the product is likely synthetic THC which may not respond in the human body the same way THC in the plant does. There haven’t been long term studies to know. And finally, another option is to vaporize THC or CBD, or both, via specialized vaping liquids or cartridges. This is becoming increasingly popular, and in the coming years may well replace smoking as the standard method of consumption
Another way is via consumption of marijuana edibles, in the form of marijuana-infused foods and drinks. Related to edibles are cannabis oils, which are simply concentrated forms that are typically consumed in capsules. It is easier to take too much of the cannabis when eating it, because the gummies may be small and the effect takes much longer than smoking, people eat too many.
Increase Nutritional Intake
As mentioned above, a common side effect of THC intake is poor nutritional choices and increased consumption of junk foods like processed carbs and sugary snacks.
Fortunately, this can be alleviated by ensuring that your body receives the micronutrients it desperately needs, in the form of vitamins and minerals.
An easy way to increase nutritional intake is to consume a diet of colorful fruits and vegetables.
Such foods contain vitamins A, B, C, and D, niacin, iron, magnesium, calcium, and so much more.
Find the Root Cause
While it’s very possible that marijuana can contribute to hair loss in some individuals, it will usually not be the main factor.
From genetic predisposition to chronic illness to medication, there are many causes of hair loss. If you’ve used marijuana previously without ill effect, or if you believe it’s only contributing a small amount to your problem, then the obvious step is to find and treat the principal cause.
It is crucial to first identify the type of underlying hair loss: slow, chronic hair loss that starts from the temples or crown of the head is the hallmark of pattern baldness, which is linked to androgens (and DHT in particular) attacking the hair follicle.
On the other hand, sudden onset, acute hair loss will usually be related to telogen effluvium or alopecia areata. As mentioned above, the cause of these, and especially telogen effluvium, will usually be an environmental trigger like a disease, medication, nutritional deficiency or acute stress. Stress is also likely implicated in the pathogenesis of alopecia areata.
Other causes of hair loss may be hormonal, or you could have an underlying condition contributing to the issue. To rule these out, I recommend you get blood work from your physician.
While the jury on the relationship between marijuana and hair loss is still out, one thing is certain: giving up on the use of marijuana will have no ill effect on the health of your hair, and it could very likely benefit it.
One factor that cannot be overstressed is that there will be significant individual differences. Cannabis is a substance to which different people have dramatically different emotional and physiological responses. These range all the way from extreme euphoria and uncontrollable laughter to a complete lack of any psychological effect.
Marijuana laws differ from state to state and from country to country. Possession still involves prison in some places, and is not worth the risk. Know your local laws. Those under 25 should avoid use because of concerns about learning and memory changes to brain.
It seems almost certain that these very conspicuous differences are accompanied by differences in the way the internal organs – including the hair follicles – of various users respond to this drug.
In summary, if you are determined to max out your chances of stopping or even reversing hair loss, then quitting or at least lowering the consumption of cannabis is an obvious low hanging fruit.
*This article was reviewed by Dr. Debra Rose Wilson.