Pot & Pimples: A Tricky Combination

Peter Piper plucked a peck of pot. Peter Piper puffed a peck of pot.
If Peter Piper polished off pizza, pie, and soda pop after puffing his pleasant pot, how many new pimples did Peter Piper pop after puffing his pot?

Peter Piper

Patricia Wong, M.D

Does smoking marijuana cause acne? The answer is it depends on what you consume afterwards. It turns out that endocanniboid receptors in the brain are activated by marijuana causing increased secretion of neuropeptide Y and galanin from the brain. These neuropeptides regulate metabolism and appetite. Neuropeptide Y stimulates carbohydrate ingestion and galanin stimulates fat intake by activating receptors located in the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus (a center in the brain). The hypothalamus sends a signal to the stomach and small intestine to increase production of a hormone called ghrelin, which creates a feeling of hunger and craving for carbohydrates and fatty foods.

There is recent compelling evidence from a number of medical studies linking a high glycemic diet to acne flares. A high carbohydrate intake increases insulin-like growth hormone levels causing an increase in androgen production from the adrenal gland and other organs in the body. The androgens bind to receptors located on oil glands. This stimulates the oil glands to overproduce sebum, causing skin pores to become sticky and clogged. Eventually, the pore becomes so distended with dead skin cells, oil, and bacteria that it ruptures. This results in a red raised pimple, pustule, or acne cyst on the surface of the skin. Since the majority of sebaceous glands are located on the face, chest, and back, it is not surprising that this is where most acne occurs on the body.

How Acne Develops

Patricia Wong, M.D
Normal Skin
Patricia Wong, M.D
Patricia Wong, M.D

The Bottom Line

Unhealthy food and snack choices provide a nutritional breeding environment for pimples and nourishment for already existing acne. Ideally, you should have a good supply of fruits, vegetables, nuts, i.e. healthy snacks so you do not succumb to sudden urges for sweet, salty, and fatty foods. Dr. Wong recommends resist the urge to order pizza delivery after smoking marijuana.

The main dietary acne causing culprits to avoid are:

  1. Highly processed carbohydrates such as white rice, white bread, and white sugar.
  2. Trans-fats, saturated fats may masquerade on the label as partially hydrogenated oils or vegetable shortening. Fried foods and baked goods are high in trans-fats. These include french fries, potato chips, cheetos, doughnuts, cupcakes, cake, pie, pastries, pie crust, margarine, pizza dough, cookies, biscuits, animal meat, coconut oil, and palm oil.
  3. Diet sodas, soda pop, fruit juice drinks, and energy drinks. Artificially sweetened drinks can prime your appetite for more sugar. Corn syrup is often added to these sugary drinks.
  4. Processed meats such as hot dogs, bacon, baloney, and salami.
  5. Dairy products including milk, cream, cheese, and butter.

All of the above foods cause insulin and insulin-like growth hormone levels to spike.
By the way, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration allows companies to label their products as containing zero trans-fat if it contains equal to or less than 0.5 grams of trans fat. This means that eating multiple servings of "zero trans-fat foods" can actually add up to a good percentage of your calories being from trans-fat. Trans-fat more importantly causes cardiovascular disease, raises the bad cholesterol (LDL), and lowers the good cholesterol (HDL). Similarly, a label claiming to be cholesterol free contains 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving.

Beneficial Foods for Clear Skin:

  1. Fiber - oatmeal, flaxseed, whole grain oats, wild rice, quinoa, barley, and Basmati brown rice
  2. Agave nectar
  3. Cinnamon, tumeric, and ginger spices
  4. Brown rice
  5. Beans and Lentils
  6. Green tea, unsweetened soy milk, hemp milk, unsweetened ice tea, and water with fresh lemon juice
  7. Low fat yogurt
  8. Nuts
  9. Monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat: olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil, and sesame oil. As a general rule, unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and become solid when refrigerated.
  10. Dark leafy green vegetables ,such as swiss chard, spinach, and collard
  11. Vitamin C in the form of fresh fruit (e.g. mandarin oranges, blueberries, and squash) or vegetable, sweet potatoes.
  12. Omega 3-fatty acids fish, such as, salmon, rainbow trout, sardine, barramundi, mackerel and arctic char. Avoid farm-raised fish.
  13. Avocado
  14. Fruits: tomatoes, oranges, apples, and pears
  15. Tofu

Dr. Wong's Anti-Acne Snack Suggestions for Pot Smokers

  1. Guacamole dip with whole wheat tortillas or Finn crisp
  2. Popcorn, unbuttered and unsalted
  3. Edamame
  4. Tomato juice
  5. Nuts
  6. Tapenade, hummus, or pesto dip with raw vegetables
  7. If you are going to eat chocolate, eat dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate or white chocolate for the reasons discussed above. Dark chocolate has antioxidants that are not present in the other forms of chocolate.

If you choose to disregard the above advice, please do not delay calling Dr. Wong for help in treating your acne when it flares. Final Take Home Message: Just a few fun, indiscretionary indulgences can quickly lead to an acne flare, but the treatments necessary to regain control over your breakouts and clear the acne, can take many weeks to months to clear.