You may have heard stories, but is it true? Can cannabis fight melanoma? Though clinical trials in humans are badly needed, research in animal models suggests that cannabinoid medicines hold promise as novel skin cancer treatments.
What is melanoma?
Melanoma is a form of skin cancer thought to be triggered by exposure to UV rays from the sun or tanning beds. Exposure to UV rays can cause DNA in cells to mutate, ultimately damaging them. Melanoma appears most often in areas exposed to UV rays, but it can also develop on the soles of the feet or in other non-exposed or “hidden” areas of the body.
It begins when pigment cells in the skin begin to mutate and create dark, unusually shaped marks on the skin. While it isn’t the only type of skin cancer, melanoma is the most severe. This form of cancer may begin in the skin, but melanoma is quite aggressive. If left untreated, it can spread or metastasize to other parts of the body.
Signs of melanoma
According to the Mayo Clinic, the average person has between 10 and 45 moles on their body. A normal mole is round in shape, can reach the size of a pencil eraser, and is typically uniform in color. Cancerous moles are quite different. Here’s how you tell the difference:
- Asymmetrical or irregular shapes
- Moles with scalloped borders
- Non-uniform color, some parts may be darker than others
- Increases in size
- Larger than 1/4 inch in diameter
Can marijuana treat melanoma?
There’s a growing amount of evidence showcasing marijuana’s cancer-fighting abilities. A study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology last year treated mice graphed with melanoma cells with a cocktail of THC and CBD. In the study, researchers from Italy, Spain, and England found that the combination triggered the death of melanoma cells. The cannabinoids did this by facilitating two natural processes of cell death known as autophagy and apoptosis.
During autophagy, cells disassemble any damaged parts they have floating around inside of them. Apoptosis can be thought of as cell suicide. During apoptosis, the cell begins to cleave or break itself into various parts. The parts are then cleaned up by other cells in the immune system. While autophagy is often seen as a way to stave off apoptosis, cannabinoids like THC and CBD stimulate both of these processes in cancer cells when tested in animal models.
They used a 1:1 ratio very similar to the GW Pharmaceuticals’ drug Sativex, which is currently undergoing trials as a cancer pain treatment in the U.S. The international research team concludes in their abstract that Sativex “warrants clinical evaluation metastatic disease.”
These findings don’t come as a complete surprise, however. Back in 2006, some of the same researchers identified the endocannabinoid system as a possible target for treating melanoma. Looking again at animal models, the Spanish team found that CB1 and CB2 receptors were expressed in melanoma cells. The CB1 and CB2 receptors are the binding sites for psychoactive THC in the body.
When the scientists activated these cell receptors, it decreased the growth and spread of melanoma cells. It also spurred cell suicide in the cancerous tissue.
Skin Cancer Success stories
Canadian cannabis hero Rick Simpson has one of the most well-known skin cancer success stories out there. To cure himself of basal cell carcinoma, he began putting a highly concentrated cannabis extract directly onto his skin. He had already been ingesting the oil on a daily basis to help cope with the pain from a previous work injury.
What happened when he applied cannabis to his skin cancer? Here’s what Simpson had to say for himself:
I hate to say it, but I almost didn’t do it. I almost didn’t apply the oil. I thought, “you know, if there was a cure for cancer, surely the medical system would be using it.” That was my assumption at the time. I had the oil right there anyway ’cause I was ingesting it to help me sleep. So I just took a little bit of oil and put a little bit on bandages, two bandages, and I put one on my cheek and one on my chest.
I never felt a thing. Before that, I was getting these sensations, like I had splinters in my face. As soon as I put the oil on that sensation went away. But there was no feeling that anything was happening. I left the bandages in place for four days, and I went down to the bathroom. When I took the bandages off, I was just shocked. Because it was all healed and there was just pink skin. On both places.
This oil is now known as Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) and it can be found in most medical marijuana dispensaries.
“I’ve struggled with cancer for over 20 years.”
In another testimony, this man tells us that he had been battling skin cancer for over twenty years before he tried marijuana oil. While he doesn’t tell us specifically what form of skin cancer he had, he is now cancer-free and owes his health to medical cannabis.
I have found that an application of marijuana oil to my skin cancer has actually made it go away, in other words cure it, on a stand-alone basis. With no other medications, no surgery, no pain, all natural. It simply worked.
Many patients willing to try cannabis oil as a treatment for skin cancer have seen remarkable success, and international research has found that marijuana is a potent anti-cancer in animal models. Yet, until we have clinical trials of cannabis-based medicines, patients are left with few options. Self-treating with cannabis oil can be difficult. There are many questions to consider: what dose is considered therapeutic? How long should you continue to use it? How do you guarantee the quality of the product that you’re using? Is it safe to risk stopping chemotherapy?
Since cannabis oil has not been tested in any clinical trials, patients interested in medical marijuana have to make tough decisions for themselves. Until we see some major breakthroughs in marijuana policy, we’re left with anecdotal evidence about marijuana’s cancer-fighting abilities in humans.
Have you or someone you know used cannabis oil for melanoma or skin cancer? Did it help? Share your story with us on social media or in the comments section below. We’d love to hear what you have to say!