Skin cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer with 3.5 million americans being diagnosed every year. Skin cancer is caused by UV radiation which creates a cancerous lesion on the skin surface. Though different forms of skin cancer vary greatly in severity, skin cancer can be typically treated in its early stages by removing the afflicted portion of skin. In some cases, chemotherapy is necessary following the removal of the lesion. Cannabis’ possible ability to reduce or kill cancer cells has been an area of study that has interested cancer researchers for many years.
A set of researchers at California Pacific Medical Center gained traction in 2007 when they released data showing how cannabidiol (CBD) can reduce the aggressiveness of human breast cancer cells in the lab. Though research in the United States is limited, three major studies have been released across the world that point to a possible successful treatment for skin cancer in medical marijuana.
Japanese researchers published a study in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology that showed a significant reduction of skin cancer in mice treated with synthetic cannabinoids. The study showed a reduction of about 90% across the population of mice. Though this study was conducted with synthetic cannabinoids, it points to possible success using phytocannabinoids, cannabinoids from marijuana.
The European Journal of Pharmacology published a study on how the endocannabinoid system could be crucial in fighting melanoma. The endocannabinoid system is the series of cannabinoid receptors throughout the human body that respond to both cannabinoids produced by our own bodies as well as cannabinoids from cannabis. The study found that Anandamide (AEA), a endocannabinoid we produce internally, aids in suppressing and killing cancer cells. Due to the fact that THC reacts to the same receptors as AEA, it is possible that THC could have similar effects on cancer cells.
One of the most extensive studies on skin cancer and cannabinoids came from the British Journal of Pharmacology. Based on previous research suggesting that several cannabinoids could have the ability to “switch off” uncontrolled skin cell growth. The study investigated the epigenetic regulation of genes, which determine skin differentiation, by phytocannabinoids that imitate the natural endocannabinoids found in the human body. The study tested three major non-psychoactive cannabinoids from marijuana, CBD, CBG, and CBV, on differentiating skin cells. The study compared these cannabinoids to the effects of AEA, the primary cannabinoid which the body produces itself. The key findings of this study were that cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabigerol (CBG) reduced the expression of all genes tested in differentiated skin cells, showing that CBD and CBG are able to reverse epidermal changes. The expression of epidermal differentiation genes can be regulated by the cannabinoids CBD and CBG from cannabis, similarly to AEA.
Though there is a need for clinical trials for cannabis’ effect on skin cancer, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence to back up preliminary studies that have been conducted. The United Patients Group interviewed one patient, named David Triplett, who suffered from skin cancer on his nose. His doctor had recommended using a chemotherapy topical but he was interested in information he had found about cannabis oil and skin cancer. As he applied the oil he saw no change over the course of a few weeks, but eventually the spot became smaller, then disappeared completely along with his cancer. Stories similar to David’s are not uncommon, and they show a clear need for clinical trials to see if these results are directly related to the application of cannabis oil to the skin cancer lesion. With further research, cannabis could become a natural alternative to the commonly used chemotherapy topical products or as an additional component in skin cancer treatment for patients.
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