Can certain cannabinoids help defeat skin cancer?

A cannabis extract slowed the growth of skin cancer cells and triggered their self-destruction, according to the results of a recently published lab study. The study by Australian researchers found that a specific experimental Cannabis sativa extract known as PHEC-66 “might have potential as an adjuvant therapy in the treatment of malignant melanoma.”

Melanoma only accounts for about 6% of all reported cases of skin cancer, according to a report from New Atlas. However, the aggressive form of the disease is so deadly that it causes more than 80% of skin cancer deaths. Melanoma shows a high resistance to traditional cancer treatments and is prone to metastasizing, or spreading to other parts of the body.

Previous research has shown that compounds in cannabis might have antitumor effects related to the body’s endocannabinoid system. Studies show that the CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors, which are found throughout the central nervous and peripheral immune systems, affect intracellular signaling pathways that control different biological processes such as gene transcription, cell motility, and the process of programmed cell death known as apoptosis. 

The new study, which was published last month in the peer-reviewed journal Cells, tested the effects of PHEC-66 on the growth of primary and secondary (metastatic) human melanoma cells. The researchers found that the cannabis extract impeded the growth of the skin cancer cells by interacting with CB1 and CB2 receptors.

The research also showed that PHEC-66 inhibited the progression of cell growth and division known as the cell cycle. Additionally, the cannabis extract influenced metabolic pathways by causing an accumulation of compounds in melanoma cells that can lead to apoptosis.

“All these actions together start the process of apoptosis and slow down the growth of melanoma cells,” the researchers wrote.

“The damage to the melanoma cell prevents it from dividing into new cells, and instead begins a programmed cell death, also known as apoptosis,” Nazim Nassar, a co-corresponding author on the study, said in a news report from Charles Darwin University. “This is a growing area of important research because we need to understand cannabis extracts as much as possible, especially their potential to function as anticancer agents. If we know how they react to cancer cells, particularly in the cause of cell death, we can refine treatment techniques to be more specific, responsive and effective.”

Research Could Lead To New Cancer Treatments

The study shows that cannabis compounds could potentially be used to treat patients with melanoma. The researchers say the next step in the process is to develop methods to deliver PHEC-66 which would lead to pre-clinical trials to test the safety and effectiveness of the compound.

“Advanced delivery systems still need to be fully developed, underscoring the importance of ongoing efforts to ensure the proper and effective use of these agents at target sites,” he said.

Nassar noted that there is still a stigma associated with using cannabis compounds therapeutically. However, with continued research, the study’s findings have the potential to advance treatments for a wide range of medical conditions in addition to cancer.

“Clinical uses of cannabis extracts include treatment for anxiety, cancer-related symptoms, epilepsy, and chronic pain,” said Nassar. “Intensive research into its potential for killing melanoma cells is only the start as we investigate how this knowledge can be applied to treating different types of cancers.”

The team of scientists called for more research into the use of cannabis extracts including studies that showed the effect of cannabis compounds on skin cancer when combined with other treatments for the disease.

“Further studies are required for a comprehensive understanding of its potential use in advanced-stage melanoma treatment, preferably involving more sophisticated models and assessing its viability within combination therapies,” they wrote.


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