Understanding the potential of cannabinoid derivatives in the treatment of skin cancer

Posted on 10/06/22 | Updated 06/10/22 Reading: 6 minutes


Melanomas are responsible for 75% of deaths from skin cancer, in view of the metastatic capacity of melanoma to reach lymphatic tissue and blood vessels. These data from Instituto Vencer o Câncer help understanding the importance of exploring more alternatives for treatment and prevention of this disease.

Cannabinoid derivatives demonstrate potential in this context. No wonder, the pharmaceutical industry initiatives to patent Cannabis-based products for topical use, which range from antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties to antineoplastic properties, have been frequent. That is what we are going to talk about in this post, exploring the potential of cannabinoids in skin cancer, especially in melanoma, based on the most recent scientific evidence. Check out!


The relationship between cannabinoids and skin cancer

The discovery of Endocannabinoid System (SEC) by science at the end of the 20th century allowed us to understand the therapeutic potential of Cannabis in regulating several physiological and pathological processes in the human body. Endocannabinoids and their receptors are widespread in the body, and are especially abundant in the integumentary system.

This means that Cannabis-based products are able to interact with our skin as well. Therefore, they can be explored as alternatives for topical use for the treatment of a series of diseases, such as acne, pruritus, eczema, psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, skin neoplasms and wounds that are difficult to heal, such as varicose ulcer or pressure injuries.

Particularly regarding skin cancer and melanoma, the topical use of lotions and oils based on cannabinoid derivatives has the potential to inhibit neoplastic cells and also prevent their appearance. Below, we are going to talk about some scientific evidence about the potential of cannabinoids in skin cancer.


Antineoplastic potential of cannabinoids 

Studies indicate that the action of phytocannabinoids on sensory nerves, inflammatory cells and skin-attached structures is able to reduce itching, relieve pain and promote the death of neoplastic cells in the epidermis.

An example is an experiment carried out by American researchers in 2020, which shows that the activation of CB1 and CB2 receptors by the phytocannabinoid CBD resulted in inhibition of growth, proliferation and metastasis of melanomas in rats.

>> Access here the paper about the experiment: Effects of cannabidiol (CBD) on the inhibition of melanoma cells in vitro, by Rosemary Burch, Asif Mortuza, Elliott Blumenthal, Ahmed Mustafa.



Another study, also published in 2020 in the scientific journal Molecular Sciences, brings similar evidence based on a literature review, which reinforces the potential of cannabinoids in the context of skin cancer.

>> See the study Roles of Cannabinoids in Melanoma: Evidence from In Vivo Studies, by Ava Bachari, Terrence J Piva, Seyed Alireza Salami, Negar Jamshidi, Nitin Mantri.


The authors highlighted the positive results of 6 (six) in vivo experiments in which the use of cannabinoids, individually or combined, reduced the growth of neoplastic melanoma cells, promoting apoptosis and autophagy of these cancer cells.

This other research, published in 2020 in the scientific journal Journal of Cancer Research and Therapeutics, investigated the effectiveness of administering cannabinoids to mouse melanoma cells, comparing the use of a cannabis extract individually and also combined with a single dose of ionizing radiation.

The results showed that the administration of cannabis extract alone or combined with ionizing radiation promoted the necrosis of melanoma neoplastic cells. Ionizing radiation alone, in turn, showed no antiproliferative effect, and also did not potentiate the antiproliferative effects of cannabinoids when used in combination with the extract.


>> To learn more, read the paper Effects of standardized Cannabis sativa extract and ionizing radiation in melanoma cells in vitro, by Jamal Naderi, Nasim Dana, Shaghayegh Haghjooy Javanmard, Alireza Amooheidari, Maryam Yahay, Golnaz Vaseghi.


We also highlight this research, published in 2017 in the scientific journal Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences, which also brings optimistic results regarding the potential of cannabinoids to fight skin cancer.

Tau and Stathmin proteins are the key proteins in metastases of this type of cancer. In this experiment, the administration of cannabinoids significantly decreased cell migration and expression of Tau and Stathmin protein genes compared to control group.

>> See details of this experiment in the paper Standardized Cannabis sativa extract attenuates tau and stathmin gene expression in the melanoma cell line, by Golnaz Vaseghi, Mohamad Javad Taki, Shaghayegh Haghjooy Javanmard.



What about the famous Rick Simpson oil?

Tumor control cases, including skin cancer control, after using medical cannabis are frequent. This scenario has stimulated the growing interest by patients and family members in using Cannabis-based formulations in the context of cancer. 

Diagnosed with skin cancer in 2003, Rick Simpson “patented” a homemade process for extracting Cannabis oil – which has been widespread over the internet, encouraging people around the world to produce this cannabis oil on their own. However, there is no proven scientific basis behind this experiment, which makes the practice, above all, potentially dangerous.

From a chemical point of view, the production of Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) – as it is known – is dangerous because it involves a process of extracting oil by using hydrocarbons derived from petroleum, which are toxic and highly flammable substances. 

The dosage protocol proposed by Rick Simpson is also very likely wrong, as it involves an extremely high dose of THC (above 1,000mg / day), which is invariably associated with many side effects and is hardly tolerated by patients. In addition, as scientific studies indicate, this dosage is probably unnecessary to induce the cannabinoids antineoplastic effects.


>> Para saber mais a respeito do potencial antineoplásico dos canabinoides, confira nosso material rico “Cannabis as adjuvant therapy in cancer patients

Cannabis como adjuvante terapêutico no paciente com câncer


Safe prescriptions for Cannabis-based products require proper qualification in the field, which connects scientific background and extensive practical experience. Only then will doctors be able to make the most of the cannabinoid’s potential in skin cancer and other diseases whose therapeutic effects of Cannabis are already well known and explored.


If you are interested in this field, contact us and see how to be part of our global community of studies in Endocannabinoid Medicine!



Bachari A, Piva TJ, Salami SA, Jamshidi N, Mantri N. Roles of Cannabinoids in Melanoma: Evidence from In Vivo Studies. Int J Mol Sci. 2020.

Burch R, Mortuza A, Blumenthal E, Mustafa A. Effects of cannabidiol (CBD) on the inhibition of melanoma cells in vitro. J Immunoassay Immunochem. 2021.

Naderi J, Dana N, Javanmard SH, Amooheidari A, Yahay M, Vaseghi G. Effects of standardized Cannabis sativa extract and ionizing radiation in melanoma cells in vitro. J Cancer Res Ther. 2020.

Vaseghi G, Taki MJ, Javanmard SH. Standardized Cannabis sativa extract attenuates tau and stathmin gene expression in the melanoma cell line. Iran J Basic Med Sci. 2017.


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