There are a myriad of medical benefits to cannabis, and with its growing legalization, scientists are conducting more studies in an effort to fully explore everything the plant has to offer. One aspect of cannabis that currently interests researchers is its ability to treat melanoma and other forms of cancer by inducing cell death.
What is Melanoma?
Melanoma is a specific form of skin cancer. It begins in melanocytes, or cells that produce melanin, explains the National Cancer Institute. It is one of the most common types of cancer in the U.S.
Symptoms of skin cancer include a change in an existing mole or the development of a new, pigmented or unusual looking growth on one’s skin. This mass, uncontrolled replication of cells is the key culprit in most forms of cancer.
While scientists have yet to identify the exact cause of melanoma, it has been acknowledged that an overexposure to UV rays, or sunlight can drastically increase one’s chances of catching it, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Can Cannabis be Used as a Treatment?
While many parts of the country are still working on legalizing cannabis, a wave of scientific studies on its medical advantages has already reached the general public.
For example, the Journal of Cancer Research and Therapeutics conducted a study in 2020 on the effects of standardized cannabis extracts and ionizing radiation in melanoma cells. They did this by placing three different concentrations of cannabis extract in the cells in combination with radiation for 72 hours. They also treated cells with the extracts alone for 72 hours.
All of this was an effort to see whether or not these extracts could induce cell death.
The team found that the extract by itself, or with radiation, greatly impeded on the cancer cells’ viability. The cannabinoids induced cell death, therefore putting a stop to the uncontrolled multiplication that cancer cells often perform.
As a result, researchers concluded that, according to their data, cannabis extracts can help treat and even eradicate melanoma cells.
The International Journal of Molecular Sciences did similar research on the role of cannabinoids in melanoma in 2020. To conduct the study, researchers gathered data from over 622 scholarly articles, studies, and abstracts in order to have as much information as possible to work with.
After a seemingly infinite amount of research that saw them discard more than half of the articles they found, their results proved similar to those in the Journal of Cancer Research and Therapeutics.
More specifically, they found that both THC and CBD can inhibit tumor growth. Additionally, they discovered that a combination of cannabinoids is much more effective than just one single cannabinoid.
They even went a step further. They said cannabis seemed to improve the quality of life for the animals in a multitude of different experiments.
Sooner Than Later?
Rick Simpson, a former engineer, was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, another form of skin cancer, in 2003. When traditional medicine proved ineffective, Simpson started using cannabis as treatment. Eighteen years later, Simpson is cancer free.
Since then, several others have employed Simpson’s methods to create cannabis oils, or Rick Simpson Oil (RSO). RSO are used topically to ease pain and treat cancerous growths, making Simpson and RSOs a household name.
Simpson received backlash from the Canadian government, and has since left his home country. However the entrepreneur continues to sing the gospel of cannabis plants and their medical benefits.
“Our natural right as humans is to be allowed to have free access to this plant to help deal with our medical issues…” Simpson told Emerald in 2019.
“[…] For someone in my position it would be impossible to ignore the positive impact of cannabis oil, ” he said.
“I am aware that testimonials cannot be viewed as true scientific studies, but thanks to these courageous individuals who were openly sharing with the world that they had used cannabis oil, the scientific evidence now does exist to back all the claims I have been making about the healing powers of cannabis oil,” Simpson added. “I feel we all owe them a debt of gratitude for the actions they have taken.”
What is Next?
It is virtually impossible to trace the effects that RSOs have had on each and every single one of its users at this point. But, the emerging research shows cannabis is a promising treatment for different forms of cancer, including melanoma. Although these findings are groundbreaking, there is still a long road ahead. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
For now, all we can do is keep the discussion going. The de-stigmatization of cannabis will be a crucial step in getting some of the world’s brightest minds to donate their time and funds towards the plant’s medicinal potential. As the topic of cannabis becomes less taboo, we are likely to find more concrete evidence that shows whether or not cannabinoids can treat cancer.