This post will discuss the effects that chronic marijuana use may have on hair loss. This will include a look at the two major ways that cannabis can affect hair health and available scientific data.
Marijuana: A Cure-All or Threat?
Cannabis, or marijuana, is a popular recreational drug slowly finding its legal footing in a number of countries, including the United States, Canada, Portugal, the Netherlands, and Spain.
While many tout the drug as a cure-all, its advocates often gloss over the negative consequences of cannabis consumption.
One ill effect not commonly talked about is hair loss.
Two Ways Regular Marijuana Use Can Be Linked to Hair Loss
The effects of marijuana on hair health can be divided into two categories.
Direct physiological effects
The majority of cannabis users smoke the plant, either on its own or mixed with tobacco. Either way, the combustion is involved leads to the release of thousands of harmful substances. These are absorbed by the bloodstream and travel throughout the body.
There are recent studies suggesting that chronic smokers do suffer from an increased risk of developing pattern baldness. For example, a population survey out of Taiwan found regular smoking was a predictor of pattern baldness among men, while another one out of Jordan found regular smokers were more likely to develop prematurely gray hair before turning 30 (1, 2).
These studies were performed 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 the large majority of cannabis smokers mix it in with tobacco (3).
Researchers studying the direct physiological effects of cannabis on the hair follicles are also making headway. The take-away message is that cannabis consumption negatively affects follicle cell growth.
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 receptors in various organs, including the hair follicles. THC found within marijuana is known as an exocannabinoid, and it attaches to the receptors just like endo-cannabinoids do.
A study performed in 2007 by researchers at the University of Debrecen found that endo- and exocannabinoids inhibit the growth of the human hair follicle (HF) (4).
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 increases the percentage of hairs in the catagen or involution phase of the hair cycle. As the amount of exocannabinoid increases, so too does the percentage of hair follicles in the catagen phase.
In relation to hair loss, this may precipitate a condition known as telogen effluvium.
Telogen effluvium is an acute form 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 an 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 known that being high can lead to binge eating, the consumption of junk food, and weight gain (6).
Finally, if you are suffering from hair loss, 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 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.
Scientists confirm that marijuana use can decrease motivation, and they have even given this condition a name: cannabis amotivational syndrome (7).
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 cause the medical condition you are treating to flare up again. The sensible option is to reduce consumption to a level that allows the symptoms of the condition to stay under control while also lowering the adverse effects of the drug itself.
Consume Cannabis Differently
A large part of the damage done by cannabis is related to the harmful chemicals, including many carcinogens, released during the process of combustion.
THC vaping raises even more concern because the product is likely synthetic THC. There have not been long term studies to know the true effects of synthetic versus plant-based THC.
Perhaps one of the safer ways to consume cannabis is by consumption of edibles. Related to edibles are cannabis oils, which are simply concentrated forms that are typically consumed in capsules. This avoids the issues caused by combustion and vaping, though users must be careful of dosage when consuming orally.
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 is very possible that marijuana can contribute to hair loss in some individuals, it will usually not be the main factor.
Slow, chronic hair loss starting at the temples 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 is usually related to telogen effluvium or alopecia areata. The cause of these, and especially telogen effluvium, is often an environmental trigger like a disease, medication, nutritional deficiency, or acute stress.
Other potential causes of hair loss are hormonal imbalance, or you could have an underlying condition contributing to the issue. These can be ruled out by a physician.
The relationship between marijuana and hair loss is largely unknown. However, it is almost certain that giving up on the use of marijuana will have no ill effect on the health of your hair. In fact, it may even benefit it.
One factor that cannot be overstressed is there will be significant individual differences. Cannabis is a substance to which people have dramatically different emotional and physiological responses. It seems almost certain these differences will also impact the way the internal organs – including the hair follicles – respond to this drug.
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 the brain.
In summary, if you are determined to increase your chances of stopping or even reversing hair loss, then quitting or at least lowering the consumption of cannabis is one place to start.