The occasional use of marijuana may not cause long-term effects. However, long-term use can lead to hormonal changes, a slowdown in hair follicle cell production, and an increase in stress levels. All of these contribute to hair loss.
In this post, I’ll discuss the effects that chronic marijuana use can have on hair loss. This will include a look at a number of scientific studies, and what I recommend you do to combat marijuana-linked hair loss.
Marijuana: A Cure-All or Underlying Threat?
Marijuana, also referred to as cannabis, is a popular recreational drug that’s slowly finding its legal footing in a number of countries, including the United States, Canada, Mexico, Switzerland, and Spain.
And, while the drug is certainly touted as a cure-all – for anything from pain to stress to seizure control – there’s still much that’s not known about marijuana and its ill effects on the body.
One ill effect that’s not commonly talked about is hair loss.
That’s right – it’s been scientifically proven that the active ingredient within marijuana, THC, can cause a number of bodily changes. Some of these lend themselves to hair loss.
3 Ways Regular Marijuana Use Can Be Linked to Hair Loss
Aside from the fact that marijuana is an inhalant and, therefore, harmful to the lungs and throat, it can also cause hair loss through a variety of mechanisms. Let’s look at the three most common.
It Causes Hormonal Changes
Hormones are a vital component of many major bodily functions, but if you have Androgenetic Alopecia (AGA), then hormones play an important part in your hair loss.
AGA is caused by sensitivity to DHT, a hormone that’s produced when 5-alpha-reductase (an enzyme) attaches to testosterone.
In the majority of individuals with AGA, an overproduction of DHT isn’t the issue. Instead, normal levels of DHT trigger responses in sensitive hair follicles and lead to hair miniaturization and loss.
As a result, many hair loss treatments aim to reduce the presence of DHT in the hair follicles.
Now, back to marijuana use.
Studies have shown that use of marijuana can reduce LH and FSH levels in the body. These two hormones (classified as gonadotropins) are important in the production of testosterone, and less of these levels means less testosterone in the body.
In theory, that’s great – less testosterone means less DHT.
In practice, low testosterone levels can lead to a number of ill health effects. To name just a few:
- Reduced sex drive
- Inability to sexually perform
- Inability to get and keep an erection
- Increased body fat
- Decreased muscle mass
- Decreased body hair
- Anxiety and depression
One thing to note is that chronic use of marijuana may result in less symptoms and stabilization of affected hormone levels. This is believed to be due to tolerance, but it doesn’t mean that chronic users can’t suffer from the symptoms mentioned above.
It Slows Cell Production
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.
A study performed in 2007 by researchers at the University of Debrecen found that endo- and exocannabinoids inhibit growth of the human hair follicle.
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. However, THC found within marijuana is known as an exocannabinoid, and it attaches to the cannabinoid receptors just like endocannabinoids do.
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, cannabinoids can inhibit the proper development and growth of the human hair shaft, and induce hair loss.
As shown above, this is done by increasing the percentage of hairs in catagen phase. As the amount of AEA (exocannabinoid) increases, so too does the percentage of hair follicles in catagen phase.
It Induces Stress
Contrary to popular belief, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), can actually increase cortisol levels. In relation to hair loss, this can induce a condition known as telogen effluvium.
As mentioned above, the hair growth cycle occurs in three phases: anagen, catagen, and telogen.
Telogen effluvium occurs when the hair follicles enter the telogen phase of the cycle prematurely. This can be due to injury, illness, hormone changes, or stress, and it leads to an excess shedding of hair.
Fortunately for many sufferers of telogen effluvium, the condition is short lived. However, if the stressor is not removed (in this case, THC), it can continue indefinitely.
Although is a cigarette being used in the experiment, I thought it was a cool way to show some of the chemicals that can be deposited in the lungs from smoke:
What You Can Do to Combat Marijuana-Linked Hair Loss
If you believe that your hair loss is linked to marijuana use, there are a few things you can do to lessen the issue (or get rid of it altogether).
Decrease Marijuana Usage
While stopping use altogether may yield more significant results, many users are wary of doing so. This is especially true if you’re using marijuana for medicinal purposes.
My recommendation, then, is to decrease marijuana use.
While there’s no doubt that THC has a few benefits related to occasional use, the drug is an inhalant and comes with a number of ill effects. This includes an increased risk of cancers and related diseases.
Increase Nutritional Intake
A common side effect of THC intake is increased appetite.
However, this appetite increase doesn’t usually relate to an increased intake of healthy, nutritional foods. Instead, you’re more likely to find yourself munching on carbs and sugary snacks.
This can have negative effects on your body, and this can lead to even further hair loss.
Fortunately, this can be easily combated by increasing your nutritional intake and ensuring that your body receives the vitamins and minerals it desperately needs.
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.
In addition, I recommend you eat mostly alkaline foods.
The foods you eat are either acidic or alkaline. When you consume more acidic foods, your body’s pH balance goes out of whack. This can result in excess production of DHT or other side effects that can cause hair loss.
Find the Alternative Cause
While it’s true that marijuana use can cause hair loss in some individuals, it may not be the only factoring contributing to the issue.
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 it can help to find and treat the true cause.
The easiest way to do this is through an elimination diet (to rule out food triggers).
Essentially, you cut out the “usual suspects” for 23 days. This means no egg, no gluten, no dairy, no soy, no fast food, and no alcohol for the entirety of the 23 days.
After this, you reintroduce the foods one by one over 96 hour periods.
For example, on day 24, reintroduce gluten into your diet.
Eat it, and take note of how you feel over the next 48 hours.
Eat the food again, and take note once more of how you feel. If no reactions occur (such as digestive upset, rashes, itching, hives, etc.) then you may add it back into your diet.
However, you may notice that certain foods leave you feeling sluggish. This can be an autoimmune response, and this may mean that the food is a trigger for your hair loss.
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 you may not want to give up marijuana entirely, there’s no doubt that chronic use is linked to hair loss. This may mean you’ll need to make a few changes to your current use rate, or live with the ill effects.
Of course, there could be other causes contributing to your hair loss so it would make sense to work on those first.