Medical Marijuana and Skin Cancer- Does it Work?
I. About Skin Cancer
The top layer of skin called epidermis contains three types of cells: squamous cells, basal cells, and melanocytes. All these cells can be affected by cancer, leading to squamous cell carcinomas, basal cells carcinoma and melanoma, respectively.
There are also pre-cancerous skin conditions like actinic keratosis, which sometimes may turn into squamous cell skin cancers (especially if left untreated). Bowen disease is another pre-cancerous condition, which is the earliest form of squamous cell skin cancer.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, according to Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. The most common type of skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma. Recent reports from Skin Cancer Foundation states that an estimated 4.3 million cases of this form of cancer are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. The same source indicates that squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer, being diagnosed in more than 1 million Americans each year. Finally, an estimated 192,310 cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2019.
Basal cell and squamous cell cancers can be effectively treated when detected and treated early. On the other hand, the majority of skin cancer deaths are from melanoma because this type of cancer is more aggressive and tends to spread to other organs. It makes a huge difference in survival rates whether melanoma is treated early, before spreading to the lymph nodes and other organs, or it is managed in advanced cases.
Conventional treatment will vary, depending on the type of cancer, the stage, the size of the tumor and the overall health of an individual. The eight types of standard therapy are: surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, photodynamic therapy, immunotherapy, (ie interferon) targeted therapy drugs (ie vismodegib), chemical peel and other drug therapy (ie vitamin A derivates).
ii. Does Medical Marijuana Have Anti- cancer Qualities?
Most people are familiar with cannabis extracts not to treat cancer, but rather manage side effects from chemotherapy such as nausea and vomiting. However, research studies show that cannabis extract has anti-cancer qualities on its own.
Cannabinoids as potential anti-cancer agents
Many studies conducted during the last few decades show that CB1 and CB2 receptor agonists (such as THC) can directly affect the cancerous cells, even aggressive cancers. Animal studies found that CBD is able to inhibit the progression of many cancers, including, melanoma as well as breast, lung, prostate cancer, colon cancer, glioblastoma (a form of brain cancer) and leukemia.
Rick Simpson and Rick Simpson Oil
Rick Simpson was a Canadian engineer who suffered from skin cancer. He discovered the benefits of cannabis when trying to manage his own health issue. He formulated a highly concentrated formula named Rick Simpson Oil (RSO). There are no research studies on RSO. More about Rich Simpson Oil in this article.
Topical and/or oral treatments. Medical marijuana can be used topically (applied on the skin), in orally ( in the form of edibles, tinctures, capsules or oils) or smoked.
iii. Why Is Medical Marijuana A Potential Treatment For Skin Cancer?
In animal studies and test tubes, cannabis targets cancerous cells in multiple ways: the plant cannabinoids promote the death of cancerous cells, block the formation of new cancer cells, cut off the blood supply of the tumors and prevent the spread to other organs.
Cannabis extracts may also have the ability to inhibit cancer stem cell renewal. Cancer stem cells are one of the main reasons why cancer tumors are resistant or reoccur after conventional treatment. Scientists believe that one of the most powerful weapons against cancer of a drug is its ability to kill cancer stem cells.
More research is needed to fully evaluate the benefits of cannabis in humans. Many human trials on cannabis are currently in progress, exploring the benefits of this plant for various health conditions. As of May 2019, there are over 30 clinical trials in various phases testing medical marijuana specifically for cancer treatments.
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