Acne is a term that compiles a series of dermatological conditions. Blackheads, pimples, whiteheads, and cysts all fall under the term. It’s the most common skin condition in America, and potentially in the world.

Most people have had acne in one form or another at some stage in their lives. It occurs when skin secretions clog up the pores, and it may be more outwardly noticeable if you have greasy/oily skin, which happens mostly during the teenage years. This is thanks to increased hormonal activity during adolescence. It can lead to scarring if left untreated, and it is also a very common cause of teenage depression. This is why, for many years, we have seen the market flooded with different cleansers, moisturisers, and exfoliators to combat and prevent acne. But none of these work for everyone, and they don’t seem to fully eliminate the problem. This is why researchers have begun to explore cannabis as a potential option.


The endocannabinoid system (ECS) exists all throughout the human body—in the central nervous system, the immune system, and yes, even the skin. Among other functions, the ECS is believed to help control the production and health of skin cells. In fact, sebaceous glands (those responsible for secreting oil into hair follicles) have been shown to feature cannabinoid receptors[1]. This consequently suggests that cannabinoids, both internal and/or external, may affect their normal functioning. Being that the endocannabinoid system’s function is to keep everything in balance, it’s possible that it could prove to be a target for normalising oil production in the sebaceous glands.

Kinds Of Acne And CBD


In 2014, the Journal of Clinical Investigation published a research article which states[2] that CBD produces “a unique ‘trinity of cellular anti-acne actions’”. These actions include: normalising the metabolic formation of fat produced by “pro-acne” agents, suppressing skin cell proliferation, and preventing proinflammatory cytokine production. The researchers go on to suggest that CBD’s proposed antiproliferative effect on human sebocytes is “expected to greatly reduce sebum production in vivo”. They also bring into context CBD’s proposed antibacterial potential, referencing a study[3] in which CBD displayed “remarkable antibacterial activity” on hyperproliferative keratinocytes.

Even with these intriguing results, far too many reviews reference preclinical and preliminary clinical data. A need for more in-depth study is warranted.

Now that we have a better idea of what the science says about CBD, it’s worth looking into its psychotropic sister cannabinoid, THC. After all, the cannabis plant is much more than just CBD, or just cannabinoids for that matter.


In a Huffington Post interview, Dr. Ariel Ostad states that THC increases levels of sebum indirectly by increasing levels of testosterone when smoking. As such, she suggests that those predisposed to acne may be at a greater risk of developing breakouts when enjoying THC-rich cannabis. That said, fellow dermatologist Dr. Bobby Buka mentions that this 3–5% increase in testosterone is not enough to directly stimulate acne or unusual hair growth.

The above scientific findings are consistent with others in that they are _inconsistent_. Given THC’s illicit status in many parts of the world, there simply haven’t been enough large-scale clinical trials, or even preclinical trials, on THC for acne and other skin conditions. All things considered, acne sufferers who want to use cannabinoids should proceed with caution.


There are a lot of people who don’t live somewhere with an established cannabis market or legal framework. However, CBD oil is exponentially gaining steam, and can be purchased legally in brick-and-mortar shops and online. Just make sure it’s high-quality, hemp-derived CBD oil containing negligible levels of THC (exact amounts will vary based on jurisdiction).

Aside from cannabinoids, individuals can capitalise on the nutritious properties of hemp seed oil. Hemp seed oil is full of antioxidants, rich in omega fatty acids, and contains more than 50% of your daily linoleic acid. This last one is particularly intriguing, as low levels of the acid are linked to acne breakouts. Authors of a 2009 review published[4] in Dermato-Endocrinology propose that “linoleic acid is directly involved in the sebaceous lipid synthesis”, and that low levels of the acid are a risk factor for comedone (black head/white head) production and may increase “impairment of the epidermal barrier function”.

Although hemp seed oil on its own doesn’t contain any cannabinoids, it can be infused with CBD to create a formula rich in natural hemp constituents.

While we can't make any hard and fast conclusions about using cannabis for acne, we can look to current scientific studies and reviews, as well as recommendations from dermatologists and other medical professionals. Hopefully, the future of cannabis for acne is clear and bright.

External Resources:
  1. Sebaceous gland receptors https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  2. JCI - Cannabidiol exerts sebostatic and antiinflammatory effects on human sebocytes https://www.jci.org
  3. Antibacterial cannabinoids from Cannabis sativa: a structure-activity study. - PubMed - NCBI https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
  4. Sebaceous gland lipids https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
This content is for educational purposes only. The information provided is derived from research gathered from external sources.

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