5 Things to Know about Treating Skin Cancer with Medical Cannabis

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Almost everyone has unfortunately been affected in one way or another by cancer. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer and the most common type of skin cancer is Melanoma. Melanoma is generally caused by overexposure of the skin to harmful UV rays. In addition to being the most common cancer, melanoma is also known as being of the most dangerous forms of cancer. This is because if it not detected and treated in its early stages, melanoma can quickly metastasize and spread to other nearby parts of the body. The treatments for skin cancer include surgery, cryosurgery, and prescription medications which often create a variety of unpleasant and unwanted side effects. The good news is that recent medical studies are showing that medical cannabis, also known as medical marijuana, may help in reducing the number of skin cancer cells in patients without any of the negative side effects.

Here are 5 things you should know about treating skin cancer with medical cannabis:

  1. Melanoma is only one type of skin cancer. Actually, skin cancer can be classified into three main types: squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Each of these forms of cancer are named after the types of cells affected by the cancer. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the most common types of skin cancers and melanoma is the rarest type. Melanoma is, however, the most deadly which is probably why it is the most well known of the three. In fact, Melanoma is responsible for a whopping 75% of all skin cancer deaths! It is also the fifth most prevalent type of cancer among men and the sixth among women.                        
  2. Skin cancer is believed to be brought up by prolonged exposure to UV rays either from direct sunlight or from tanning beds. The UV rays create a mutation in DNA cells which lead to the growth of cancer cells in the skin. While most forms of skin cancer generally appear in areas of the skin with high exposure to UV rays, there have been cases where the cancer cells also appear in other areas of the body which have not been exposed. When the skin cells begin the process of mutation, they begin to form unusually shaped and often dark marks on the skin. If these marks are left untreated they will spread, or metastasize, to other nearby body parts.
  3. There are currently many types of conventional treatment for skin cancer including cryosurgery, pharmaceutical medications, electrodesiccation, and Mohs surgery. Cryosurgery, also known as cryotherapy, is when a doctor uses liquid nitrogen or gas to create extremely cold temperatures on the skin’s surface in order to destroy any abnormal tissues on the skin.The side effects of cryosurgery can include blisters, hair loss, bleeding, headaches, and hyperpigmentation of the affected area. There are many pharmaceutical medications used to treat skin cancer and some of the more well-known medications are Efudex, Aldara, Cotellic, and Keytruda. The negative side effects of these medications range from stomach pain and diarrhea to mouth sores, muscle stiffness, and drowsiness. Electrodesiccation is the process of using an electric current through an electrode shaped like a needle to deliver a super hot blast to specific areas of the skin. Possible side effects of electrodesiccation can include bleeding, lightening or darkening of the affected skin area, infections, and scarring. Mohs surgery is the complete removal of a cancerous skin lesion. This is a risky procedure and doctors must be very careful to not remove any healthy skin from surrounding areas.
  4. Cannabinoids fight skin cancer. Medical cannabis researchers have recently found that the body’s endocannabinoid system plays an important role in fighting skin cancer. Discovered in the 1980s, scientists are learning that the endocannabinoid system is vital to the human body’s biological system and plays a large part in regulating almost every one of the body’s major functions, including cell mutation. Researchers have found evidence that the cannabinoids CB1 and CB2 have receptor sites on the skin. The primary active chemicals in medical cannabis, THC and CBD, interact with these receptor sites. They then can mimic the body’s natural cannabinoids which, when healthy, send signals to the genes in skin cells alerting them to turn on or turn off. This in turn allows the signals to be sent via the endocannabinoid system to regulate healthy cell division and differentiate between health and cancerous cells. In 2015, scientists discovered that THC in medical cannabis triggered cellular apoptosis, or programmed cell death. Further, unlike with other conventional skin cancer treatment options, medical cannabis compounds are able to target the cancerous cells without destroying the nearby healthy tissue.
  5. Medical cannabis can help prevent skin cancer.  A recent study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology showed that CBD, one of the main chemical components in medical cannabis, is quite effective at stopping unwanted DNA activity. This is important because there are certain genetic factors that can have a large impact on the growth of skin cells including skin cancers. The researchers of this study even went on to state that, “phytocannabinoids cannabidiol and cannabigerol are transcriptional repressors that can control cell proliferation and differentiation. This indicates that they (especially cannabidiol) have the potential to be lead compounds for the development of novel therapeutics for skin diseases”. In yet another study which was published in the  Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology, medical cannabis researchers in Tokyo discovered that cannabinoids reduced skin cancer by up to 90% over the course of a 20 week study.

Medical cannabis can be administered for skin cancer treatment in a variety of ways. Some of the most popular ways to administer cannabis oil are in the form of tinctures, edibles, full extract oils, and topical ointments. Tinctures, edibles, and extracts can be used orally and are quickly absorbed through the mucous membrane whereas topicals can be applied directly to the upper level of the epidermis for absorption. When considering a medical cannabis protocol it is advised to speak with a reputable and knowledgeable practitioner to ensure responsible strains and dosing. Whether taken in conjunction with or as an alternative to conventional medical skin cancer treatments, medical cannabis can be a safe and effective treatment for skin cancer and can be useful without the harmful side effects of cryotherapy, surgery, and pharmaceutical medications.

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