There are many possible reasons why hair falls out. It can be due to genes, scalp problems, nutritional deficiencies, pregnancy and underlying health issues such as a weakened immune system or thyroid problems. But can recreational drug use cause hair loss? There is some debate over this matter as to date there have been no large scale studies specifically on hair loss as a direct result of human drug use. However, there is a link. Taking recreational drugs causes a significant rise in adrenalin levels and this can affect the body and subsequently the hair growth cycle.
What are Recreational Drugs?
A recreational drug is described as a drug that is used non-medically for enjoyment purposes. The most commonly used recreational drugs are cocaine, MDMA (ecstasy), cannabis and Diacetylmorphine (heroin). However recent studies show that other drugs, such as Ketamine and gammahydroxybutrate (GHB), are being used more and mixed with other drugs. While these are both class C drugs, they can be powerful and dangerous, especially when used alongside other drugs.
How Do Drugs Cause Hair Loss – The Expert View
Senior hair loss specialist at the Belgravia Centre in London, Leonora Doclis, says, “All recreational drugs have the potential to cause a type of hair loss called Telogen Effluvium because taking drugs causes a shock to the system. As a result, certain hair follicles will prematurely stop growing and enter the resting (Telogen) phase, where they remain for three months, after which time they are shed. If the person stops taking drugs and the body is able to rebalance itself naturally, then the hair should return to a normal growth cycle approximately six months after taking the drugs.”
Doclis points out that taking drugs can also lead to another condition, Diffuse Thinning. “Sometimes the hair loss is a secondary effect of drug intake, particularly Cocaine, due to malnutrition as most regular users do not tend to have the appetite to eat healthily,” says Doclis. It is difficult to say who will be affected by this condition. As Doclis explains, “Tolerance for the quantity of drug intake or frequency of intake varies between individuals. This means one person may be affected by just one or two drug binges yet we know of many celebrity addicts who have a lot of hair and regularly take drugs.”
Regular use of recreational drugs will also generally lead to ill-health and feeling ‘run-down’ which can affect sleep patterns and lower a person’s immune system. Again, these factors can contribute to a weaker hair growth cycle and exacerbate other hair loss conditions such as Male Pattern Baldness and Female Pattern Hair Loss.
Can Drug Use Trigger Permanent Hair Loss?
While it is possible that hairloss that is caused by drug use is temporary, Doclis says, “for some people with Telogen Effluvium or Diffuse Thinning, their hair loss can trigger Androgenetic Alopecia, or Male Pattern Baldness / Female Pattern Hair Loss”.
This condition is caused by an inherited sensitivity to Dihysrotestosterone (DHT – the hormone that attacks the hair follicles causing slower growth and eventually stopping all growth at the top of the scalp from hairline to crown) and, if left untreated, can lead to eventual baldness in men and significant thinning of the hair in women. Approximately 80 per cent of men and 50 per cent of women will develop this condition at some point in their lives, whether or not they take recreational drugs, however using illegal drugs can make this condition worse or make it start earlier than it would normally.
How to Prevent Hair Loss from Drug Use
The first and most important step would obviously be to stop your drug use. This will have benefits on the hair as well as your physical and mental health and well-being as a whole. If drug use is extensive then seek advice from a physician as going ‘cold turkey’ may need to be medically guided.
If you have already noticed thinner hair or hair loss, then it may be possible to restore lost hair using a tailored hair loss treatment programme. Initially it needs to be determined whether the hair loss is a progressive, permanent condition (genetic) or a temporary one in order to decide which treatments, if any, are necessary.
The Celebrity Story
We all know that drugs are rife in the world of rock n roll, movies and fashion. For every healthy, clean-living, yoga-loving star (ie Coldplay’s Chris Martin) there will be ten free-wheeling, thrill-seeking celebrities high on life in more ways than one (Eddie Van Halen, Liam Gallagher, Kate Moss, Robert Downey Jr, Whitney Houston, Nick Nolte… the list goes ).
In 2008, British model Paul Sculfor revealed he stopped taking cocaine because it made his hair fall out. Sculfor, who was dating Cameron Diaz at the time, said drug abuse was affecting his looks and his hair, “My hair started falling out in my partying years, because excessive cocaine abuse affects the adrenal system and halts hair growth. I’m lucky it grew back. I’m not vain, but I am obsessed with my hair.”
Further Studies That Show Drugs Cause Hair Loss
In one study, researchers injected cocaine under the skin of rats. Within 2 days patches of hair loss developed around the injection areas and later the cells and living tissue around the area died. The study clearly indicated that cocaine is cytotoxic (toxic) to proliferating cells. Hair follicle cells are the most active of any in the body, dividing once every 13 hours. The study concluded that cocaine, injected or inhaled, has a cytotoxicity (toxicity) high enough to reduce cell division in hair follicles and consequently may cause telogen effluvium.
Drugs Mixed with Other Substances
Hair loss may be connected to adulterated drugs. Powder sold as cocaine is often found to be adulterated with thallium salts (rat poison). One study showed that, after using such adulterated cocaine, individuals developed extensive hair loss. Thallium is known to cause thinning hair due to telogen effluvium at low doses and will kill people at higher doses.
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.