Balding Pot Heads – Cannabis Smoking Linked to Hair Loss
Results haven’t been published yet but researchers at the University of Amsterdam suggest that regular smoking of cannabis contributes directly to hair loss.
Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug and is used by roughly two million people in the UK, despite the many known negative side effects. The study of men and woman aged between 18 and 60 who regular smoked the drug found that young males in particular were prone to the effects of regular smoking and hair loss is one of them.
If we think about it hypothetically for a second, the link between marijuana, skunk, green, gear – whatever you want to call it – and thinning hair makes sense, and can be inferred through previous studies. Regular cannabis use harms the body in two distinct ways – via the effect of the substance itself and via negative lifestyle changes, such as increased stress levels, irregular eating habits and poor dietary intake.
Hormonal link between cannabis and hair loss
Any major change in our lives can be reflected in the condition of our skin, hair and scalp. Studies suggest that smoking cannabis alters multiple hormonal systems within males and females, which can lead to side effects such as hair loss, lowered libido, increased aggressiveness, acne, and increased facial hair.
General link between smoking and hair loss
The general toxicity of smoking has been linked to hair loss. The carcinogen content has been shown to slow down cell proliferation in the hair follicles – the result being significant hair loss as the follicles prematurely enter telogen (resting phase of the hair growth lifecycle) until the environment is more conducive to growth. Sometimes hair loss treatments are necessary to promote regrowth.
Nutritional link between cannabis and hair loss
According to one study, cannabis use “affects food and liquid intake behavior, taste preference, and body weight. Changes in specific nutrient status and metabolism can also develop”. Nutritional deficiencies can contribute to increased hair shedding by weakening hair shafts that cause breakage to the hair and slow regrowth.
Cancer link between cannabis and hair loss
Studies have concluded that higher consumption of sodium, lower fruit and vegetable intake, lower serum carotenoid levels, higher alcohol intake, higher cigarette use and the compounded carcinogenic effects of marijuana place users at a higher future risk for cardiovascular disease and cancer, particularly site-specific cancers such as cervical and prostate. Hair loss has also been linked to cancer, particularly of the prostate, and a recent study suggests frequent or long-term marijuana use may double a man’s risk of testicular cancer. It’s currently one of the most common cancers in younger men, with approximately 2,000 new cases each year in the UK.
Stress link between cannabis and hair loss
Stress is a key player in hair loss and regular marijuana users tend to have a lot of stress and use the substance to alleviate the problem. However, cannabis is a depressant and because it affects hormone levels it only exacerbates stress which in turn aggravates hairloss.
There are numerous factors that can cause thinning hair which must also be considered when diagnosing the condition, such as a genetic tendency to thinning hair despite the use of marijuana. However, as head of the most recent study, Dr Bob van Rossum said: “This just goes on the ever growing list of negative effects of smoking cannabis.”
The Belgravia Centre
The Belgravia Centre is the leader in hair loss treatment in the UK, with two clinics based in Central London. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation Form from anywhere in the UK or the rest of the world. View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which are the largest collection of such success stories in the world and demonstrate the levels of success that so many of Belgravia’s patients achieve. You can also phone 020 7730 6666 any time for our hair loss helpline or to arrange a free consultation.
Researchers at the University of Amsterdam suggest that regular smoking of cannabis contributes directly to hair loss but there's a genetic tendency to thinning hair despite the use of marijuana.
Does Marijuana Use Affect Hair Loss?
Lately, marijuana and byproducts such as CBD oil are becoming relatively more accepted in mainstream culture. This also means that the drawbacks are being examined as well. Not the age-old criticisms like ‘it makes you lazy’ or ‘it makes you eat too many Cheetos.’ I’m talking about the more uncommon ones, such as whether it contributes to hair loss or not. While researchers are still exploring the possible link between marijuana and hair loss, let’s look at the studies.
1. What the studies tell us
As far back as 2007, researchers were on to cannabis’ effects as a hair growth inhibitor . They found regular marijuana usage slowed hair growth by causing changes in hormone levels . For some people, the results of those changes led to acne. In others, it lead to a lowered libido, increased aggression, or hair loss. It’s suspected that frequent users today would experience similar results.
It is important to note, however, that the results are still out. In fact, some even believe that marijuana and CBD oil can be used to treat hair loss .
Studies have also shown that frequent users experience higher levels of cortisol , the stress hormone. It is widely accepted that stress can be a trigger for hair loss. Lastly, scientists have discovered that marijuana causes an uptick in your metabolic rates . While this may seem like great news, it does also mean your body will age faster than it would otherwise, which could contribute to accelerated hair loss.
Ultimately there are many reasons why marijuana could lead to hair loss. Interestingly, all of them have to do with THC’s impact on the body .
2. What does this mean about how marijuana affects hair loss?
The true impact of marijuana usage on hair loss is not completely understood. Still, some things are known beyond a doubt. Regular usage impacts hormone levels which can wreak havoc on your hair. Weed slows down cell production, an important part of hair growth. Lastly, marijuana can be held responsible for increasing stress. Let’s continue digging to learn more.
3. Weed can induce hormonal changes, possibly affecting hair loss
In addition to the highs, users can also thank THC for the hormonal changes that follow. These hormonal changes can cause serious problems ranging from depression and anxiety to weight loss, fatigue, reduced sex drive, and hair loss according to certain studies.
Let’s begin by taking a look at how THC effects hormones.
How THC Affects Hormones
THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) is the naturally occurring compounds found in marijuana that is responsible for getting you high. THC alone doesn’t do anything to your hair, but it does impact male reproductive systems. Let me explain:
For men, the hormone GnRH becomes blocked when THC is around. Why does that matter? When GnRH isn’t released, other hormones aren’t released either, including testosterone.
Growth hormones are then stunted, which, by the way, isn’t great for your bones and muscles. So, THC does a lot to your hormones, which, as I’ll explain, have a lot to do with your hair.
This isn’t just for men–
For women, female reproductive processes are not impacted by weed, but interestingly, ovulation plays a large role in how women’s bodies react to THC, as their estrogen levels vary depending on where they are in their monthly cycle. This is why women were found in this Washington University study to be more likely to suffer from weed-induced paranoia than men. So their hormones are affected by weed too, but it leaves to be seen whether this leads to hair loss.
How does THC messing with hormones mean hair loss?
THC could reduce reduce hair growth by reducing luteinizing hormones and follicle stimulating hormones.
Luteinizing hormones and follicle stimulating hormones directly impact testosterone production—which is why marijuana has an especially strong hormonal effect on men.
THC could elevate levels of the hormone cortisol, possibly leading to stress-related hair loss
THC may also cause a rise in cortisol—a steroid hormone in the glucocorticoid class of hormones, which doesn’t help the case for weed. That’s because increased cortisol can cause the follicle to enter the telogen phase of hair growth too early.
Referred to as telogen effluvium, heightened levels of stress cause too much hair shedding at too rapid a rate for your hair to keep up with.
4. Marijuana can slow down cell production, possibly hurting hair
To fully understand marijuana’s possible role in inducing hair loss due to lowered cell production, it’s important to understand how hair grows. There are four stages of hair growth :
Anagen – the growth phase
Catagen – the regression phase
Telogen – the resting phase
Exogen – the shedding phase
Normally, with good cell growth, after the last phase, the shedding phase, is complete, the growth cycle begins again at the first phase, the growth phase. Cell production is critical for the growth phase. Unfortunately marijuana has been shown to slow down cell production dramatically.
The impact of this is that hair spends too little time in the growth cycle before transitioning to the second phase, the regression phase, and then pummelling forward into the resting period—way before it should.
This process is referred to as hair miniaturization . While the name is cute, the impact is hair loss—and probably some associated stress.
And stress can lead to more hair loss. So the question is…
Does marijuana hurt or help stress?
5. Marijuana could affect hair health by heightening stress
A lot of habitual users enjoy weed’s calming effects,and generally, the science checks out if intake is minimal to moderate. But what if it’s not?
Interestingly, excess use of marijuana can have a negative impact on mood. That might sound crazy, given it’s reputation for doing the literal opposite.
Yet as discussed in the section above on hormones, THC may increase cortisol levels. The more cortisol you have, the more stressed you’ll feel.
Weed’s link to stress comes as a shock for most people, let’s skip forth to take a quick look at three serious scientific studies that support it—and don’t worry, we’ll talk about the studies that don’t support it after this.
Study 1: Dose-related effects of delta-9-THC on emotional responses to acute psychosocial stress
In 2017, researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Chicago decided to solve something once and for all: were the mellows touted by weed enthusiasts worldwide real or not?
The results were mixed. Researchers Emma Childs, Joseph A. Lutz, and Harriet de Wit studied 42 non habitual smokers in good health performing a variety of stressful activities under the influence of various (specifically calculated and regulated) levels of THC.
At first, the findings were unsurprising:
The researchers found that if minute amounts of THC were consumed, participants reported feeling more relaxed. This led to positive consequences like interviewing more successfully, giving less nervous sounding speeches, and so on. The next part is just weird.
If THC was consumed in large enough quantities to produce at least a mild high, anxiety heightened significantly .
In the end, researchers determined small doses of THC reduce anxiety and tension, but anything beyond a microdose will yield the opposite result.
Clearly, more information is needed to make a decision about your marijuana intake and your hair loss.
On to the next study:
Study 2 : Heavy cannabis use and attentional avoidance of anxiety-related stimuli
Researchers T.D.W. Wilcockson and N.E.M. Sanal wanted to discover if habitual cannabis users respond differently to anxiety producing stimuli than non habitual users. They studied this by looking into attentional biases in undergrads who volunteered for their study. Attentional biases occur when an anxious person is presented with emotional information.
In the study, the researchers administered THC to participants. They then employed dot-probes in relation to stimuli which was either anxiety producing (for the experimental group) or neutral (for the control group). Once the stimuli was introduced, the researchers tracked eye movements to determine if attentional biases were present. They discovered avoidant behavior was most prevalent in heavy cannabis users. While an interesting finding, it could have been the result of any of the below:
- daily users often have anxiety, which is why they formed their habit in the first place;
- they were predisposed to anxiety and their consumption caused them to develop it; or
- Because many heavy cannabis users try their best to avoid stressful situations. While intending to live a more relaxed way of life, this behavior ends up creating anxiety because the person doesn’t give themselves the chance to learn how to manage stress. Until this group of users begin confronting stressful situations, thereby learning how to process those emotions in a healthy way, they will continue to experience higher levels of stress.
Study 3 : A Naturalistic Examination of the Perceived Effects of Cannabis on Negative Affect
Researchers Carrie Cuttler, Alexander Spradlin, and Ryan J. McLaughlin took on a different sort of THC study at Washington State University. Due to federal regulatory roadblocks, research on the psychological impacts of THC and CBD have been minimal. But since marijuana is legal in Washington, this university is beginning to conduct some important work.
Of the research conducted thus far, participants have almost always taken THC pills in a lab setting. This is not how people usually partake in their cannabis experiences. So this study was unique in that participants were medical marijuana users that smoked strains of their choosing in their own homes (much like any typical user would).
Participants were prompted to report their moods after 20 minutes of inhalation, in addition to giving information on the number of puffs, specific strain, and more. Users reported anonymously in app called Strainprint, which allowed researchers to collect data from 12,000 subjects. They found that long-term cannabis use heightens depression. Ironically, marijuana was found to greatly reduce depression, stress, and anxiety in the short-term. Which brings us to our next section.
Or CAN marijuana fight stress?
On the flipside, I’m sure you’ve heard anecdotal accounts of how weed worked wonders for Aunt Mildred’s anxiety, or so and so’s chronic back pain, etc. People who turn to marijuana for pain relief use it for its anti inflammatory properties that help reduce pain.
When their pain is reduced, they feel better and are able to shift their focus on to other things, like relaxing. This is the opposite of stress and anxiety production. So perhaps marijuana can be a wonderful stress-fighter if it’s being used for pain relief.
Regardless of where the science will ultimately fall, if you’re worried about hair loss, there are lots of other ways to reduce stress that won’t hurt your chances for improved hair growth. But before we get into that, let’s discuss the studies that tout THC as a valid form of stress relief.
Study 4: Blunted stress reactivity in chronic cannabis users
This study found that over time, marijuana dulls stress reactions, regardless of whether the frequent partaker is high or not.
The Washington State University researchers concluded this after studying approximately 80 people, roughly split in half between chronic users and nonusers. They created a situation anyone would find stressful–forcing participants to dunk their hands into ice baths for about a minute while solving complicated math problems.
They scolded participants who flubbed their math and then showed them videos of their embarrassing defeats. Talk about stressful! As a control, half of the participants went through this version of the study, while the others enjoyed dunking their hands into warm water for less than 30 seconds without any scolding, videos, or math (well ok, they had to count to 25) whatsoever.
Participants were asked to share stress levels before, during, and after the trials. Additionally, researchers measured cortisol levels by sampling saliva before and after the water baths. Marijuana craving and withdrawal symptoms were recorded as well. It became clear to the researchers that heavy pot consumption softens stress responses.
Why Studies on Marijuana’s Mental Health Impact Fall Short
Unfortunately there aren’t a ton of published studies that support the marijuana as stress relief side of the equation. There’s a reason for this, and it all boils down to federal regulations. But there is a 400+ page report released by The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that explains weed’s health impact. The academies also outline where they think the research should head next. If you’d rather read the cliff notes than invest in the full report, you’ll get the idea here .
6. Marijuana use could lead to poor diet—and affect hair growth
In addition to reproductive repercussions, THC affects hunger levels (aka the munchies are real) by releasing the hunger hormone ghrelin. This happens when THC attaches to cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1). While ghrelin is busy encouraging you to go to town on some pizza, you’re also experiencing higher sensitivity to taste, smell, and pleasure.
Interestingly, THC also activates proopiomelanocortin neurons (POMCs), which increase or decrease appetite, depending on how your body reacts. This is why some weed heads lose weight after forming their habit while others gain a lot of it.
So does marijuana lead to hair loss?
Obviously we have some studies that are seemingly at odds with one another. Clearly we’re not going to try to interpret the facts for you, when this is your weed habit and your hair that we’re talking about. All we can say is that yes, it’s possible that marijuana use can lead to stress related hair loss, and yes, it’s possible that it helps you to relieve stress, and thus does the opposite.
Here’s another question.
Even if Marijuana Induces Stress, Does Stress Induce Hair Loss?
Yes. Science has shown that high levels of stress can lead to hair loss. But it might not be as commonplace at you may have been lead to believe. This type of hair loss usually falls into one of three categories:
Telogen Effluvium (stress triggered hair thinning),
Alopecia Areata (an autoimmune disease), or
Trichotillomania (a hair pulling disorder).
The good news is that stress related hair loss is usually temporary. Assuming, of course, that you can pinpoint the cause of your stress and take steps to reduce it. If you’re experiencing stress related hair loss, it’s important to take action immediately. Find ways to decompress that work for you. Some places to start might be:
- taking a nap
- optimizing for good sleep
- going for a walk
- working out
- eating chocolate
- unleashing your inner artist
- spending time with someone you love
You should also think about the food you’re eating. Consider how can you shift your nutrition so that food becomes fuel for your body, instead of exhausting it. Eating whole foods you cook yourself is one of the best things you can do for your body. If you pair that with supplements, your body’s improved nutrition should start to show in the form of increased hair growth or reduced hair loss.
One more thing—although we’ve spent a lot of time talking about stress, you should know that stress only leads to hair loss in extreme cases. Most of the time, if you’re experiencing hair loss, it’s probably due to male pattern baldness or other genetic factors.
But it never hurt anyone to destress a little, so why not give it a try?
How much can we trust the studies about MJ and stress?
As discussed, scientists don’t seem to be in agreement about marijuana’s impact on health. Some studies show habitual marijuana consumption leads to increased stress and mood disorders, while others believe it can dampen stress levels.
The best that can be said in all honesty is that weed might mess with your hair, but look into more common causes first, because it could also just be androgenic alopecia–the cause of hair loss in 95% of cases. If weed is helping you with other problems in life, maybe it’s worth whatever it might do to your locks.
How to combat the problem
Most successful hair loss treatments involve a multi-pronged approach. Great places to start include making smarter choices about your food intake, starting a daily supplement or vitamin to improve your health, and finding ways to de-stress.
If you’re a habitual marijuana smoker experiencing hair loss, you may consider cutting down your weed intake as well. This will help to rebalance your your cortisol levels and other hormones that may be out of whack, which your hair may thank you for. Specifically, here are a few tips to get started.
Determine the cause of hair loss
Sometimes you have to make the best out of the cards you’re dealt. If you have male pattern baldness, this is one of those times. Marijuana is probably a very minor contributor in light of the overall problem. Because of this, you may find that minimizing weed intake or cutting it out entirely doesn’t help all that much. Making a bigger overall lifestyle change that attacks hair loss from multiple angles would be a more logical route.
On the other hand, if the root cause of your hair loss isn’t male pattern baldness, reducing THC intake could be a good move. Regardless of the specific cause(s), knowing where things began will help. You’ll know what you’re up against, whether you determined this from your own research or the help of professionals. This is great because you’ll be able to use that information to develop a plan that makes sense and hopefully yields results.
Getting started with hair regrowth after longterm marijuana use
It’s time to talk about how to get your health back in check so that your hair can grow–whether you’re going to quit marijuana or just limit use because you’re worried about its potential threat.
Maybe this is the first time you’ve rethought how to get your health in check. But more likely, you’ve tried eating right, taking vitamins, and working out before, but either didn’t see results or couldn’t keep that train going. With holistic hair growth, all the pieces need to be in place to work. Just like you probably won’t grow your hair after simply cutting marijuana out, you can’t get results from just one hair loss supplement, or by eating better. You need to have all the parts to make it click for your scalp.
Follow a plan with actual goals measuring actual results
Set goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time oriented. Your goals might look something like this:
- “I’ll cook whole food meals at least twice a week” for a year and then measure my results after one year using before and after photos
- “I’ll take a supplement everyday for one year, and then measure the results at the end of the year using before and after photos”
- “I’ll work out for twenty minutes three times a week, and then measure the results at the end of the year using before and after photos”
- “I’ll be MJ free on Monday thru Wednesday , and then measure the results at the end of the year using before and after photos”
Make sure to keep it real. Don’t set a pie in the sky goal that’s too difficult to accomplish, and make sure the goals you set are concrete. That way you can easily track if you’ve accomplished them or not.
Make a set of goals
Because we’re talking about a holistic approach, it’s okay to set a few goals. Just make sure all of them are manageable. Think of when they will fit into your average week. Get as specific as when you will take your supplements each day. It doesn’t need to stay the same, you just need to have a vision of when all these things are going to fit into your week, so that you can verify that they actually can fit into your week.
A few words of encouragement
Don’t beat yourself up
We all fall off the wagon sometimes. Just pick yourself back up and resume where you left off. Use a Habit Tracker to record your progress so you can look back and see if there are patterns to when you fell off the wagon. Do you fall off on weekends? Do you fall off when you sleep somewhere other than your house or when you’re on vacation? That’s data you can use. Plan ahead next time.
If you’re feeling motivated, go with it!
Don’t be afraid of setting too many goals. Set yourself up for success by doing as much as you can your motivation is strong so things will easily fall into place when it’s not.
And last but not least: baby steps
Maybe you hate going to the gym and haven’t been there in years. Or maybe you smoke from the moment you open your eyes until you close them again for bed. Whatever the case may be, you can improve if you just take small, digestible steps and keep your goals small. While it’s true that it’s easy to grow hair back if you start early, stress and fear-based motivation is never going to help you live your best life.
If you’re trying to smoke less, set up a physical barrier for yourself. Keep your weed on the other side of the house. That’ll help deter you when you think about smoking. But if you do smoke, then hey! You got some extra steps in for the day. That’s something.
Make sure you’ve chosen a plan that suits your lifestyle
After a couple of weeks, revisit your goals. Are you on track? If so, consider taking them to the next level. You know you can accomplish your goals once you set your mind to them, so push yourself while your motivation is high.
But if you’ve fallen off track, it’s ok. Forgive yourself and move on. Your next step is to figure out why you’re not making progress. And no—it’s not because you’re lazy. In reality it’s because your goals don’t match your lifestyle.
So go back to the drawing board and create SMART goals that are realistic for you. Once you do that, you’ll start accomplishing them in no time. If at any point you get frustrated with yourself, remember—you can do this!
Stay committed when things get hard
Things change, stuff happens. Don’t let this force you back into your old habits. Stay committed by creating routines that nudge you towards your goals. Use all the tools at your disposal to keep yourself on track.
Peer pressure does wonders for forming new habits, so find someone willing to give you some tough love. While this person needs to be able to hold you accountable, they should also be great at helping you celebrate your wins! Keeping a positive will help you stay motivated throughout this journey.
If you make any mistakes (which you will, being human and all…), learn from them. Take them as opportunities for improvement and move on! Never allow yourself to become afraid to fail. If you do, you’ll never learn how to use failure to gain success, as the most successful people in the world do. Since you’re going to be successful with your goals too, take a page from their book.
Try a holistic approach
So marijuana may or may not mess with your hair. Whatever the science says to you, you now have other tools at your disposal.
Now that you understand how to:
- set goals you’ll actually achieve,
- make sure they’re the right ones for you,
- and commit with all your might.
It’s time to get started with a holistic hair growth regimen A holistic approach is the only way to actually improve your life while fixing your hair. There is no surgery, no side affects, no impotence… What’s the point of regrowing your hair if the process of doing so messes with the things that make you feel good in life?
Instead, make lifestyle changes that focus on diet, exercise, supplements and Low Level Laser Therapy ( LLLT ).. Do these consistently, using your goals, and measuring your success, and you will improve your life while also working on your hair. This is our complete guide to holistic hair health that provides a wealth of information on how to do that.
Conclusion: Take a balanced perspective to understand marijuana and hair loss
You’re probably stressed out about your hair or you wouldn’t have read this article. Maybe you’ve used marijuana to help with your stress, and maybe you’re confused by the conflicting science around this issue. So I’ll end with a hug. There is a lot of confusion out there, but it’s going to be okay. Just get to work and make a plan, and you’ll feel much better.
While marijuana-related hair loss has not yet been confirmed as a real thing, it’s so important to think about how all the little things you do might be exacerbating hair loss. Like other health problems, hair loss can be looked at holistically, meaning that all possible contributors are examined. Ultimately, even if your hair loss is exacerbated by marijuana use, it’s far from being the most common reason for hair loss. One more thing—I know you’re stressed out about your new ‘do or you wouldn’t have read this article. So I’ll end with a hug.
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