CNN published a story on Thursday that argues men are at risk of growing “man boobs” if they smoke too much marijuana. The piece, written by Dr. Anthony Youn, a plastic surgeon based in the Detroit area, warns that the proliferation of legalized pot may create even more instances of the apparently already-common “man boob” condition.
There is just one major problem with Youn’s story: It lacks scientific evidence.
Youn opens by saying that many men are already affected by “man boobs,” which he scientifically identifies as “gynecomastia.” According to Youn, between 33 and 41 percent of men aged 25–45 have gynecomastia, while 60 percent of adolescents do.
Ignoring the fact that this means that gynecomastia is a normal part of a man’s life, and not a disease or condition to be ashamed of, Youn goes on to act like the numbers of people who come to his plastic surgery practice complaining of “man boobs” is a sign of a growing epidemic, all thanks to marijuana use. “Although most cases of gynecomastia resolve spontaneously within a few months to a few years,” he writes, “in 2012 nearly 23,000 people underwent surgery to correct the condition. According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS), it was the fifth-most common cosmetic surgery in men.”
Studies don’t back up the connection Youn is trying to draw here. While certain reports have shown that marijuana use may temporarily reduce testosterone levels in men — something Youn says is a cause of gynecomastia — the doctor has no solid evidence to show any correlation between marijuana use and this so-called “condition.” In fact, the only study he cites directly contradicts his claim:
In humans, the effects of marijuana on testosterone and estrogen levels aren’t as clear. Lower testosterone levels have been reported in chronic marijuana users compared to nonusers, but not all studies support this.
Few studies have examined a direct causative effect between smoking marijuana and gynecomastia. A report in 1972 made the initial connection between cannabis and gynecomastia. This study is contrasted with a 1977 survey of U.S. Army soldiers which showed no association between smoking marijuana and gynecomastia. This study was limited, however, due to its very small sample size.
Despite having no real basis for his story, Youn tells readers how he plans to capitalize on this condition, especially if it grows with the increased legalization of marijuana across the U.S. “If a true link between smoking pot and gynecomastia does exist,” he writes, “then we should expect to see a spike in gynecomastia treatments in those states which have legalized marijuana.”
Youn’s entire involvement in the conversation is problematic. As a plastic surgeon, he has a vested interest in trying to drum up self-criticism and body image problems. And he has done so successfully for quite some time. Youn is the same doctor behind a series of stories this summer on the “semi-real” condition of “bitchy resting face” — where women’s faces aren’t friendly-looking enough. Youn’s solution to that made-up condition was very similar to his suggestion for this one: getting plastic surgery.