Does Smoking Weed Cause Acne? A Doctor Explains

Updated: Oct. 31, 2023

It's a widely held belief that smoking weed can cause acne, which some researchers have called "the most common human skin disease"...but is it actually true? A dermatologist reveals the intriguing answer.

There’s been a considerable amount of scientific research around the long-term effects of smoking marijuana. (Case in point: Some experts say science suggests a link between weed and lung cancer.) Meanwhile, there’s a colloquial curiosity related to a shorter-term effect of smoking weed that some smokers or their loved ones may have noticed: Does smoking weed cause acne?

It’s been said that marijuana leads to breakouts, while some proponents instead praise compounds in cannabis for their skin-improving benefits—which might partially explain the recent rise in CBD beauty products.

So, which is it: Does marijuana cause acne, or fend off spots and blemishes? We spoke with a dermatologist and dug into recent research that investigated whether smoking weed causes acne.

Smoking weed and acne

Adam Friedman, MD, FAAD, professor and chair of dermatology at GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences at George Washington University, told us: “There is no evidence directly linking smoking weed to acne.”

Dr. Friedman says there could, however, be indirect connections simply due to behavior patterns. “I think there are secondary associations of smoking weed and acne flares, but not directly tied to the active ingredients or components of marijuana,” he explains.

If you’ve ever heard of the munchies, you’re probably aware that smoking weed can increase the appetite—that’s one of its medicinal advantages for some patients who have lost their appetites due to cancer treatment, just for example. Says Dr. Friedman: “We know that diet and acne are intricately connected.”

He also nods to 2019 nutrition research and a 2022 Johns Hopkins review when he adds, “We also know that increased dairy intake and foods high on the glycemic index (i.e. foods with a higher sugar or carb load) can induce acne.”

So, could increasing your intake of these foods while you’re under the influence of marijuana lead to acne? That’s certainly possible, Dr. Friedman says, especially for people who are already prone to pimples.

In terms of a direct cause and effect, however, Dr. Friedman says there is not enough scientific research tightly linking the two. “On the flip side, there is some really interesting data looking predominately at CBD and its ability to serve as a potential treatment to acne,” he says.

The benefits of CBD on the skin

The two main cannabinoids, or components, of marijuana are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). THC is responsible for the high that comes with smoking weed, while CBD does not have any psychoactive effects. Both have been studied for their perceived health benefits, with CBD showing skin-supporting qualities.

A 2014 study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation found that CBD was actually successful in not only treating acne, but also preventing it. The researchers tested CBD on human sebocytes, which are the cells that make up your oil glands.

The research team found that cannabidiol was successful at treating acne through its anti-inflammatory actions and was able to stop the reproduction of sebocytes, therefore reducing oil buildup. Based on these findings, the study authors call CBD a “promising, cost-effective, and, likely, well-tolerated new strategy for treating acne vulgaris, the most common human skin disease.”

So while more research is needed to understand if smoking marijuana causes acne, there is promising research on the benefits of certain cannabinoids, like CBD, on the skin.