Skin cancer affects millions of people each year. Exposure to environmental conditions like sun and certain atmospheric pollutants contributes to the development of this avoidable, yet potentially life-threatening skin disease. Medical researchers have conducted studies on skin cancer, its causes, and its treatments. In recent studies, the role of cannabis in basal treatment has been explored, pointing the way to new methods of approaching skin cancer treatment.
Skin Cancer: An Overview
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. It can affect anyone, of any age and skin type. Rates of this highly-treatable and preventable cancer are on the rise. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, approximately 9500 Americans are diagnosed with some form of skin cancer every day. About one in every five people in the U.S. will develop skin cancer in their lifetimes.
There are several types of skin cancers, including melanoma and non-melanoma cancers. The most common are non-melanoma cancers, particularly basal cell carcinoma and hsquamous cell carcinoma, which together affect about 3 million Americans each year. If detected early, non-melanoma skin cancers are highly curable; if the cancer spreads to the lymph nodes, the survival rate drops dramatically.
Non-melanoma skin cancers are characterized by several symptoms, including:
- Changes in mole shape and size
- Spread of skin pigments into surrounding tissues
- Sores that don’t heal
- Localized itching, redness, or swelling
- Abnormal spots or patches on the skin
Once detected by a dermatologist, skin cancers are often treated with medication or surgical interventions. The cancer cells are frozen and removed in some cases; in more serious cases, a specialized surgical procedure known as Mohs micrographic surgery may be needed to remove cancerous growths while preserving surrounding tissues. Early intervention is the key to survival in this treatable form of cancer.
Cannabis in Skin Cancer Treatment?
Medical cannabis has been researched extensively over the past decade. In a number of clinical studies, the chemical compounds extracted from cannabis have been shown to have powerful health effects. One of these effects is that of apoptosis, or the ability for cannabis’ chemical compounds to attack and kill cancer cells in the human body. For basal treatment in certain cancers, this cell-killing effect holds great promise.
There are hundreds of chemical compounds found in cannabis. Of particular interest to the medical research community are compounds known as cannabinoids. Within this class of compounds are several specific cannabinoids that may be of benefit to those diagnosed with skin cancer. Cannabigerol (CBG), cannabidiol (CBD), and cannabidivarin (CBV) have been demonstrated to kill skin cancer cells, switching off those affected cells and in some cases reversing the progression of the disease in limited clinical trials. These compounds are non-psychoactive and do not produce the characteristic “high” associated with cannabis use.
THC has been the subject of multiple studies in skin cancer treatment. One recent study, performed in 2014, found that THC greatly reduced the size of induced melanoma cells in mice. Another study, published in 2015, found that a combination of THC and CBD (a 1:1 mixture) induced death in melanoma cells in mice.
While further research is needed in order to fully understand how cannabinoids interact with skin cancer cells in humans, CBD, THC and other cannabis compounds may prove to help stop the spread of basal cell carcinomas, and represent a significant step forward in basal treatment. In the meantime, there are numerous cannabis-based products that can aid in mitigating the symptoms of these cancers.