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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.

RECOGNIZING MELANOMA

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 [1] where they treated melanoma in mice with THC and CBD. The international group of researchers from the UK, Italy, and Spain found [2] 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.

Studies suggest that cannabis may help in the treatment of certain cancers. Is cannabis effective in treating melanoma?

Cannabinoids as a Potential New and Novel Treatment for Melanoma: A Pilot Study in a Murine Model

Affiliations

  • 1 Department of Oral Biology/Dental College of Georgia, Augusta University Medical Center, Augusta, Georgia; Division of Plastic Surgery/Medical College of Georgia, Department of Surgery, Augusta University Medical Center, Augusta, Georgia. Electronic address: [email protected]
  • 2 Department of Oral Biology/Dental College of Georgia, Augusta University Medical Center, Augusta, Georgia.
  • 3 Division of Plastic Surgery/Medical College of Georgia, Department of Surgery, Augusta University Medical Center, Augusta, Georgia.
  • 4 Department of Oral Biology/Dental College of Georgia, Augusta University Medical Center, Augusta, Georgia; Division of Plastic Surgery/Medical College of Georgia, Department of Surgery, Augusta University Medical Center, Augusta, Georgia.
  • PMID: 30691796
  • DOI: 10.1016/j.jss.2018.08.055

Cannabinoids as a Potential New and Novel Treatment for Melanoma: A Pilot Study in a Murine Model

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Authors

Affiliations

  • 1 Department of Oral Biology/Dental College of Georgia, Augusta University Medical Center, Augusta, Georgia; Division of Plastic Surgery/Medical College of Georgia, Department of Surgery, Augusta University Medical Center, Augusta, Georgia. Electronic address: [email protected]
  • 2 Department of Oral Biology/Dental College of Georgia, Augusta University Medical Center, Augusta, Georgia.
  • 3 Division of Plastic Surgery/Medical College of Georgia, Department of Surgery, Augusta University Medical Center, Augusta, Georgia.
  • 4 Department of Oral Biology/Dental College of Georgia, Augusta University Medical Center, Augusta, Georgia; Division of Plastic Surgery/Medical College of Georgia, Department of Surgery, Augusta University Medical Center, Augusta, Georgia.
  • PMID: 30691796
  • DOI: 10.1016/j.jss.2018.08.055

Abstract

Background: Malignant melanoma is a complex malignancy with significant morbidity and mortality. The incidence continues to rise, and despite advances in treatment, the prognosis is poor. Thus, it is necessary to develop novel strategies to treat this aggressive cancer. Synthetic cannabinoids have been implicated in inhibiting cancer cell proliferation, reducing tumor growth, and reducing metastasis. We developed a unique study focusing on the effects of treatment with a cannabinoid derivative on malignant melanoma tumors in a murine model.

Methods: Murine B16F10 melanoma tumors were established subcutaneously in C57BL/6 mice. Mice were then treated with intraperitoneal injections of vehicle twice per week (control-group 1, n = 6), Cisplatin 5 mg/kg/wk (group 2; n = 6), and Cannabidiol (CBD) 5 mg/kg twice per week (group 3; n = 6). Tumors were measured and volume calculated as (4π/3) × (width/2) 2 × (length/2). Tumor size and survival curves were measured. Results were compared using a one-way ANOVA with multiple comparison test.

Results: A significant decrease in tumor size was detected in mice treated with CBD when compared with the control group (P = 0.01). The survival curve of melanoma tumors treated with CBD increased when compared with the control group and was statistically significant (P = 0.04). The growth curve and survival curve of melanoma tumors treated with Cisplatin were significantly decreased and increased, respectively, when compared with the control and CBD-treated groups. Mice treated with Cisplatin demonstrated the longest survival time, but the quality of life and movement of CBD-treated mice were observed to be better.

Conclusions: We demonstrate a potential beneficial therapeutic effect of cannabinoids, which could influence the course of melanoma in a murine model. Increased survival and less tumorgenicity are novel findings that should guide research to better understand the mechanisms by which cannabinoids could be utilized as adjunctive treatment of cancer, specifically melanoma. Further studies are necessary to evaluate this potentially new and novel treatment of malignant melanoma.

Keywords: Cannabidiol; Cannabinoid; Medical Cannabis derivatives; Melanoma.

Copyright © 2018 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

We demonstrate a potential beneficial therapeutic effect of cannabinoids, which could influence the course of melanoma in a murine model. Increased survival and less tumorgenicity are novel findings that should guide research to better understand the mechanisms by which cannabinoids could be utilize …