Cannabis — a plant formally known as Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, or Cannabis ruderalis and commonly known as marijuana — is well known for its psychoactive, recreational effects. (1) This has led to this plant being linked to stoner culture and given a variety of colloquial names, such as weed, ganja, dope, pot, and mary jane. But in ancient times, this multipurpose plant was used for a myriad of medical treatments.
As science has advanced, certain compounds and isolates from this plant have been proven to support the treatment of a number of medical conditions. And recently, a hemp oil rich in certain phytocannabinoids – the chemical compounds marijuana is best known for – was even shown to help with hair loss.
Can Cannabis Stop Hair Loss?
In 2021, a cannabis product – hemp oil rich in phytocannabinoids – was studied in an open-label trial to see if it would help stop hair loss and improve hair regrowth in people with androgenetic alopecia. This common form of alopecia is also known as male or female pattern hair loss. It’s a progressive condition that causes hair thinning in men and women and eventually tends to result in baldness. (2)
When you think of cannabis, you likely think about someone smoking weed out of a pipe or rolling up a reefer. This clinical trial involved no such consumption of marijuana – and notably, you should try to avoid smoking as this can actually worsen hair loss.
Instead, the study involved participants using hemp oil rich in three cannabinoids: tetrahydrocannabivarin, (THCV) cannabidivarin (CBDV), and cannabidiol (CBD). The formula also contained 3% peppermint oil, lanolin, and emu oil. (2)
Participants were asked to apply the formulation to their heads once a day for 6 months and avoid the use of all other hair loss treatments during that time period. A total of 40 adults were recruited and assigned into two treatment groups: half-strength and full-strength. The half-strength group’s hemp oil contained 500 milligrams of cannabinoids per ounce, the equivalent of 1.7 milligrams of hemp extract per day. The full-strength group’s hemp oil was twice as strong, with 1,000 milligrams of cannabinoids per ounce, resulting in a daily dose of 3.4 milligrams of hemp extract per day. (2)
Is Cannabis Effective at Stopping Hair Loss?
The results of the cannabis oil clinical trial were published on the website for a commercial product called Alpha Varin. The study reported that participants had an average increase of 163% in terminal hair growth (the long, thick, dark hairs that grow from your scalp, rather than the fuzzy peach vellus hairs that are found on your face and body). The study also reported significant improvements in hair thickness, hair health, and an average satisfaction rate of 92%. (3) However, as these results were not published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, these findings will need future verification.
In a prior study, the authors described a similar study using just a cannabidiol-rich hemp extract that also contained low amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This study used a formulation that contained 10.78% CBD, 0.21% THC, lanolin, and emu oil. Unlike the clinical trial’s formulation, there was no detectable THCV or CBDV in the product. (4)
A total of 35 men and women were recruited in this study and asked to apply a thin layer of paste to the balding areas of their scalps every morning. This was the equivalent of asking the participants to apply 3 to 4 milligrams of cannabis sativa-derived CBD to their scalps each day. (4)
This study reported an increase in women’s hair count of 55.2% in the temporal region and 64.9% in the vertex area of the scalp. In men, hair count increased by 74.1% in the temporal region and 120.1% in the vertex area. This resulted in an average terminal hair increase of 93.5% after six months of daily use. (4) These values are similar to those associated with the clinical trial, but the varin cannabinoids seemed to be more effective. Again, further study is warranted, and a double-blinded controlled trial would better prove that these specific cannabis compounds truly work as treatments for pattern hair loss.
How Does Cannabis Help Hair Loss?
Cannabis contains a number of chemical compounds, including (5):
- Cannabinoids (such as Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol)
- Non-cannabinoid phenols
- Terpenoids (also known as terpenes)
- Fatty acids (both saturated and unsaturated)
Cannabis is best known for its cannabinoids, particularly Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and CBD. CBD is a phytocannabinoid that has anticonvulsive, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antipsychotic effects. It is sometimes used for a number of medical purposes, including epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease. In contrast, THC is the primary psychotropic phytocannabinoid found in cannabis and is usually used for recreational purposes. (5)
When it comes to hair loss, certain cannabinoids – specifically THCV, CBDV, and CBD – are thought to be helpful in improving scalp health and improving hair growth. These three phytocannabinoids are thought to promote hair growth by blocking CB1 receptors and simultaneously stimulating TRPV1 receptors found in the body. (3-5)
These two actions are thought to stimulate keratinocytes (skin cells), causing hair shaft thickening and elongation, and prolonging the duration hairs spend in the resting phase of the hair growth cycle. Notably, varin cannabinoids are thought to be better at blocking the CB1 receptor, which explains why their addition may have helped improve hair regrowth results in the clinical trial. (3-5)
But Isn’t Cannabis Illegal?
Technically, marijuana is still considered to be a Schedule I class drug in the USA. Restrictions against the plant started during the early 20th century, as cannabis regulations increasingly prohibited the plant’s use. This led to its removal from national pharmacopeias across multiple countries. (6-8)
By 1937, the implementation of a federal legislation known as the “Marihuana Tax Act” essentially ended the medical use of cannabis in the United States. Cannabis resins, extracts, and tinctures were listed as Schedule I narcotic drugs in 1961, prohibiting the plant’s possession, production, manufacture, export, import, and trade in the USA. (7,8)
But in 2012, the states of Colorado and Washington approved measures to legalize the recreational use and sale of cannabis. And since then, nearly two dozen other states have followed suit. (9)
Legal Use of Cannabis in Medicine
Cannabis and cannabis products are still limited, highly regulated, or illegal in most countries. However, there’s been a resurgence of interest in the use of this plant’s extracts for medical purposes.
Interest in cannabis has returned because nowadays, the main psychoactive components of cannabis can be substantially reduced or eliminated – like they were in both of the mentioned hair loss studies. Simultaneously, it’s now easier to isolate the non-psychoactive components that have had medical benefits attributed to them, like varin-rich cannabinoids or CBD.
In fact, some regions allow the use of cannabis-derived products as long as any psychoactive compounds present remain under a certain minimum percentage. Cannabis may be useful when treating a wide range of health issues, including (5):
- Skin burns
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Postpartum hemorrhage
- Nausea and other gastrointestinal problems
In many cases, cannabinoids have multiple beneficial effects. For instance, CBD, THCV, and CBDV are all considered to be anti-convulsants. CBD is also an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties, and CBDV is known to help prevent nausea and vomiting. (10)
The beneficial properties of different cannabinoids are still being explored and aren’t yet fully understood. However, their potential is certainly intriguing for the treatment of hair loss and other conditions, and further studies are warranted.
- Gloss, D. (2015). An Overview of Products and Bias in Research. Neurotherapeutics, 12(4), 731–734.
- Smith, G. L. (2021). Androgenetic Alopecia Treatment Using Varin and Cannabidiol-rich Topical Hemp Oil—A Case Series (Clinical Trial Registration No. NCT04842383). clinicaltrials.gov.
- Clinical Summary. (2023). Alpha Varin.
- Smith, G., & Satino, J. (2021). Hair Regrowth with Cannabidiol (CBD)-rich Hemp Extract: A Case Series. Cannabis, 4(1), Article 1.
- Russo, E. B., & Marcu, J. (2017). Cannabis Pharmacology: The Usual Suspects and a Few Promising Leads. In Advances in Pharmacology (Vol. 80, pp. 67–134). Elsevier.
- Drug Scheduling. (n.d.) United States Drug Enforcement Administration.
- Collins, J. (2020). A brief history of cannabis and the drug conventions. American Journal of International Law, 114, 279-284.
- International Narcotics Control Board. (2021). Report of the International Narcotics Control Board for 2021. United Nations Publications.
- Hansen, C., Alas, H., & Davis, E. (2023, May 31). Where is marijuana legal? A guide to marijuana legalization. U.S. News & World Report L.P.
Odieka, A. E., Obuzor, G. U., Oyedeji, O. O., Gondwe, M., Hosu, Y. S., & Oyedeji, A. O. (2022). The Medicinal Natural Products of Cannabis sativa Linn.: A Review. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 27(5), 1689.
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Last updated September 2023