Is cannabis an effective treatment for skin cancer? Some of the most amazing medical cannabis stories and promising preclinical research suggests so.
In 2008, one man released a film that would ultimately inspire a movement. That film was Run From The Cure, a documentary by Rick Simpson, a Canadian who healed his own skin cancer with cannabis oil. His video would inspire thousands, causing many to turn to medical cannabis in times of extreme need. But, does cannabis really treat skin cancer? Here’s why there is so much interest in the plant.
Stories like Rick Simpson’s are grand. Out of sheer curiosity, Simpson placed a dollop of cannabis oil on a patch of basal cell carcinoma near his eye. He covered the abrasion with a bandage and left it for four consecutive days. After taking off the bandage, he was shocked to find pink, healing skin underneath.
Since airing his story, Simpson has individually helped thousands of people successfully use medical cannabis. However, there’s one major problem. None of these success stories are backed up by large-scale scientific trials in humans.
Due to worldwide legal restrictions on the plant, scientists have been barred from effectively studying the cancer-fighting potential of cannabis. This creates a huge gap in the medical literature on the subject.
On one hand, there is obvious anecdotal, photographic, and video proof of the herb’s success. Yet, on the other, there is no way to tell whether or not these stories hold up to the test of science, nor is there any reliable information on whether or not cannabis can make some types of cancer worse under certain conditions. It’s also possible that cannabis works for some people, but not others.
At this point, researchers simply don’t know. Yet, at what point does anecdotal evidence cease to become mere hearsay and start to represent firm case studies?
While scientists have been blocked from human trials, petri dishes and rodents are fair game. Though it’s likely not a surprise to patients like Rick Simpson, these preclinical experiments have shown that cannabis can successfully kill at least some types of skin cancer cells in the laboratory.
One such experiment was intriguing research from 2014. A study published in the journal Life Sciences tested whether or not THC killed or encouraged chemically-induced melanoma cells in mice.
While rodents certainly aren’t people, animal models are a big step up from cells in a petri dish. To test the effects of THC on skin cancer, researchers treated some mice with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the primary psychoactive in cannabis. It’s also what Rick Simpson used to heal his own cancer.
They compared these mice with normal mice, as well as mice without cannabinoid receptors. Cannabinoid receptors are the landing places for THC in the body. These landing places are typically reserved for the body’s own endocannabinoids, which are often referred to as the human THC.
In this study, THC worked.
The cannabis chemical successfully reduced the size of skin cancer tumors in the mice. This led the researchers to conclude that their results “confirm the value of exogenous cannabinoids for the treatment of melanoma”. Exogenous cannabinoids refer to external or outside treatment with cannabinoids like THC.
Tumors in mice without cannabinoid receptors grew at the same rate as they did in normal mice. So, should this finding hold true in humans, the study suggests that external cannabinoids may be especially useful in the treatment of skin cancer.
Though, it’s important to keep in mind that this research is just one small experiment. There is a quickly growing collection of studies that lay out the effects of cannabis in cancer patients. Some of this early research suggests that cannabis kills cancer cells in four distinct ways.
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