Is Cannabis a Viable Treatment for Melanoma?
Although more studies in humans are still needed, latest medical research suggests that cannabinoids can help in the treatment of skin cancer. How viable is cannabis in the treatment for melanoma?
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer. Melanoma is a form of skin cancer that accounts for less than 1% of all skin cancer cases, yet is the most severe type of skin cancer, causing the most deaths. This year alone there will be an estimated 80,000 new cases of invasive melanoma diagnosed in the United States. With a need for new treatments, scientists are beginning to ask whether cannabis could hold the answer.
Melanoma is thought to be brought on by exposure to UV rays from the sun or tanning beds, although it is assumed that other factors such as genetics or certain chemicals can trigger it as well.
HOW MELANOMA DEVELOPS
UV rays can cause the DNA in cells to mutate which leads to the growth of cancer cells. Most types of melanoma appear in skin areas that are exposed to UV rays, although there are also cases where it can appear in other, non-exposed areas on the body. When cells in the skin begin to mutate, they become dark and form oddly shaped marks on the skin. If left untreated, the cancer can spread or metastasize to other parts of the body.
The current course of treatment for melanoma is to surgically remove it in the early stages and chemotherapy in those cases where the cancer already spread.
A cancerous melanoma mole will look different when compared to a common skin mole. Non-cancerous moles are usually round and uniform in colour. Melanoma most often has an irregular, asymmetrical shape and they can have uneven borders. Their color is often non-uniform with some parts darker than others. They are often larger than the average mole and can increase in size. If in doubt, you should always consult a doctor.
TREATING SKIN CANCER WITH CANNABINOIDS
The suggestion that cannabinoids, the main compounds in marijuana, potentially have cancer-fighting abilities is not a recent one. Although there is a still lot of research to be done, especially when it comes to human cancers, the evidence for the effectiveness of cannabinoids is mounting.
Last year, the Journal of Investigative Dermatology published a study where they treated melanoma in mice with THC and CBD. The international group of researchers from the UK, Italy, and Spain found how the compounds lead to the death of cancer cells by two natural processes called autophagy and apoptosis.
AND APOPTOSIS: HOW CELLS REPAIR THEMSELVES
Autophagy is a process where cells disassemble themselves to get rid of any damaged parts inside them. Apoptosis is the process that is understood as “cell suicide”; cells break apart, with other cells in the body’s immune system then cleaning up the leftovers. In animal studies, it has been found that THC and CBD can stimulate and support both of these processes.
For the study, the team of researchers used THC and CBD in an equal ratio to mice with melanoma – a ratio similar to the drug Sativex that is currently undergoing trials as a pain treatment for cancer patients.
While this is a recent study about the effects of cannabinoids on melanoma, research in this promising field is going on for much longer. The researchers identified cannabinoids as having potential to treat melanoma already in 2006. Back then, they found CB1 and CB2 receptor cells in melanoma cells. Those receptors are also the binding sites for THC in the human body.
By activating those receptors, the team was able to slow-down the growth of malign melanoma cells. Moreover, the treatment process initiated the cell suicide of cancerous tissue.
SELF-TREATING MELANOMA WITH CANNABIS OIL?
Aside from those scientific studies, there is more evidence for the possible effectiveness of cannabinoids in treating melanoma although this evidence is most often anecdotal. You can find many reports on the internet where patients treat melanoma with cannabis oil, often reporting remarkable success.
However, due to the lack of established medical facts, self-treatment with cannabis oil and related products is not easy. Today, there is no real information available about recommended dosages or for how long to continue such a treatment. Other important questions that need answering concern the quality of products used, their ingredients and how they supplement chemotherapy. As such, cannabis cannot be considered a treatment until there is more scientific evidence.
Cannabis prohibition that is still upheld in most countries today doesn’t exactly help with progress in the field. For the time being, patients can only go by anecdotal evidence. It is to hope that more progress is made, not just with more scientific research about cannabis’ effectiveness for treating cancers in humans but also and in particular when it comes to policies for the full acceptance of marijuana as a medicine.