Marijuana and Skin Conditions: Helpful or Harmful?

By Paul Gaita 09/20/17

Using marijuana as a possible treatment for skin conditions has been a subject of debate among dermatologists for a while.

woman in purple clothing scratching her arm

A recent article in High Times debated the merits of marijuana use in treating impetigo, a bacterial skin infection defined by painful lesions on the face and body.

The feature underscored the common-sense aspects of marijuana use with individuals who have the condition—impetigo is contagious, so if you see someone with sores on their face, you probably shouldn't share a joint or smoking device with them—and suggested that marijuana could help with certain skin disorders due to its anti-inflammatory properties.

Its efficacy has been the subject of prior debate amongst dermatologists, who suggest that marijuana can have both positive and negative effects on the user's skin.

The High Times cites a 2007 study that focused on cannabis as a treatment for psoriasis. The authors concluded that certain properties in marijuana can assist in treating the condition—specifically, the aforementioned anti-inflammatory aspect and its ability to reduce overproduction of keratin, the protein found in skin, hair and nails that if produced in abundance, can create the dry, flaky patches of skin that define forms of psoriasis.

They also noted that other skin disorders could benefit from marijuana treatment due to the presence of cannabinoid receptors in human skin, which could reduce swelling, pain and other effects of skin disorders.

The true efficacy of marijuana and skin conditions has been weighed on numerous occasions in the media and among medical professionals and marijuana advocates—though no solid consensus on its exact properties appears to have been reached, as illustrated by an interview with dermatologists Dr. Bobby Buka and Dr. Ariel Ostad in the Huffington Post, where they suggest that THC has antioxidant properties that have been attributed with reducing the impact of free radical oxygen particles which in turn are among the causes of aging. 

But Buka also noted that marijuana smoke may possess many of the damaging carcinogens found in tobacco smoke, and suppress collagen production, which can lead to a host of issues like premature aging and exacerbate conditions like psoriasis.

"The delivery system is really critical," said Buka, who suggested that alternate methods of use, such as vaporizing, may be less damaging to skin than smoking marijuana. He advised that if smoking is the preferred method, a moisturizer should also be used.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.