Updated: Oct 3, 2022
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More than 100 types of cancer plague millions of humans. Among the most common types of cancer are skin cancers. Peer-reviewed research has revealed that some cannabinoids produced by cannabis and hemp may potentially play a preventative or therapeutic role in the treatment of multiple types of skin cancer.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. Of the three major types of skin cancer—basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma—basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are the most common.
The CDC estimates that, each year, "about 4.3 million adults are treated for basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas" and that the cost of this treatment approaches $5 billion.
A 2022 study entitled "Impact of Cannabinoid Compounds on Skin Cancer" that was published in the journal Cancers investigated the potential role of cannabinoids produced by cannabis and hemp for skin cancer.
The format of this study was a literature review, meaning that it analyzed a range of past research in an effort to identify patterns and gain insight into underlying mechanisms that might provide clarity for cancer researchers and medical practitioners.
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"This review focused on the anticarcinogenic mechanisms of cannabinoids at the different levels of skin cancer progression, such as inhibition of tumor growth...and apoptosis," reported the study's authors. Apoptosis is the genetically preprogrammed mechanism characteristic of multicellular organisms whereby cells—in this case, cancer cells—basically commit suicide. Research has revealed that some cannabinoids and terpenes may cause certain types of cancer cells to commit apoptosis and kill themselves.
The study noted that recent research and other scientific investigations "have suggested an essential function of the endocannabinoid system in the homeostasis of various skin functions."
The study noted that recent research and other scientific investigations "have suggested an essential function of the endocannabinoid system [ECS] in the homeostasis of various skin functions" and that cannabinoids could "be considered for the treatment of tumor diseases of the skin."
The study revealed much about the role of the dominant cellular receptors of the ECS, CB1 and CB2. It noted that "inhibition of cannabinoid receptors could...be an...option to prevent skin cancer caused by UV radiation."
The researchers also found that CBD "may serve as a protective agent for skin cancer prevention" due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. It also revealed anti-tumor activity against melanoma cancer exhibited by the endocannabinoid anandamide that is produced by the human body. The study reported that anandamide has demonstrated "concentration-dependent cytotoxicity [anti-cancer effects]" via the mechanism of apoptosis.
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With regard to chronic neuropathic or cancer pain, this literature review revealed "evidence that cannabinoids may be beneficial" as an analgesic for pain management. This 2022 study cited a 2006 scientific investigation that revealed that "activation of CB1 and CB2 leads to a reduction in growth, proliferation, and metastasis of melanoma cells."
The study concluded that cannabinoids inhibit (slow or prevent) the growth of skin cancer cells and that cannabinoids "could be a promising option for the...treatment of melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma of the skin."
"In summary, cannabinoids represent a chemically and functionally heterogeneous group of compounds that mediate potentially protective effects for the prevention of skin cancer through different mechanisms."
Reported the study's authors, "In summary, cannabinoids represent a chemically and functionally heterogeneous group of compounds that mediate potentially protective effects for the prevention of skin cancer through different mechanisms."
The study emphasized that more research, particularly clinical trials involving humans, are necessary to fully understand the potential role of marijuana- and hemp-derived cannabinoids in the treatment of a range of skin cancers.
View the original study.