Is Cannabis an Effective Treatment Option for Skin Cancer?
The most common form of cancer in the United States is skin cancer.  While some people are at higher risk than others to develop skin cancer, anyone can get it. Many people are turning to medical marijuana in Florida to alleviate the symptoms of skin cancer. If you are interested in seeing if you might qualify for a Florida Medical Marijuana Card this survey will tell you if you could be eligible.
There are plenty of reasons medical marijuana can help those suffering from the different types of skin cancer. By booking a risk-free appointment with a Florida Medical Marijuana Doctor you are able to see if you will benefit from the many medicinal properties of medical cannabis.
What Exactly is Medical Marijuana?
Medical Marijuana is a variety of cannabis products that are grown and/or processed for medicinal relief. Most states throughout the United States have legally approved some type of cannabis product for patients suffering from a variety of approved health conditions.
The main components of the cannabis plant are its cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids. These chemicals work together to produce different forms of relief and medicinal properties. The two most common cannabinoids that are used in these products are delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) which have been studied for their anti-inflammatory, pain relieving, anxiety reducing, and many other properties.
In Florida, qualified patients have the ability to get products from Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers (MMTC) which are more commonly referred to as “dispensaries.” These dispensaries sell products ranging from smokable whole flower and vape cartridges to capsules and transdermal patches.
How Can Medical Marijuana Help Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is the out-of-control growth of abnormal cells in the outermost skin layer caused by unrepaired DNA damage that triggers mutations.  These mutations cause skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors.
There are four main types of skin cancer:
- Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC): BCC is the most common form of skin cancer. It affects approximately 3.6 million people in the US each year. This cancer most often develops on skin areas that are typically exposed to the sun, especially the face, ears, neck, scalp, shoulders and back. They are abnormal, uncontrolled growths that come from the skin’s basal cells and are caused by the combination of intense and long-term exposure to the sun’s UV radiation.
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC): This is the second most common form of skin cancer, affecting an estimated 1.8 million people each year in the U.S. SCC is an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells arising from the squamous cells in the outermost layer of skin. Similar to BCC’s, SCC is caused by continuous exposure to the sun and is common on sun-exposed areas such as the ears, face, scalp, neck and hands, and where the skin reveals signs of sun damage. As many as 15,000 deaths occur from invasive SCC of the skin each year in the U.S.
- Melanoma: This form of skin cancer develops from melanocytes, the skin cells that produce melanin pigment, which gives skin its color. It can be triggered by the kind of intense, intermittent sun exposure that leads to sunburn as well as using tanning beds. They often resemble moles and can be found on any area of the body, even in areas that are not typically exposed to the sun. Out of the three most common forms of skin cancer, Melanoma is the most dangerous. While it can be curable when caught and treated early, in 2021 melanoma is projected to cause about 7,180 deaths.
- Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC): This is a rare, aggressive skin cancer. It is usually associated with a virus called the Merkel cell polyomavirus. These tumors typically appear as firm, painless lesions or nodules on a sun-exposed area. They mostly appear on the head and neck, and frequently on the eyelids. MCCs most often arise on sun-exposed areas in fair-skinned individuals over age 50. Each year there are about 3,000 new cases of MCC and about 700 deaths.
While there has been substantial progress in the treatment of cancer in general, malignant melanoma, in particular, is resistant to existing medical therapies. Several studies have shown that cannabinoids can reduce cell proliferation and induce apoptosis in melanoma cells.
For over three decades, the major treatment options for melanoma therapy have been a combination of different medicines but have not shown to be extremely effective. The efficacy of all these conventional treatments such as surgical resection, immunotherapy, and chemotherapy is limited due to the high metastatic rate of melanoma, multiple resistance mechanisms, and the undesirable side effects of some of these therapies.
The human skin has the endocannabinoid system composed of enzymes, receptors, and ligands which regulates skin homeostasis including the release of inflammatory compounds, cell differentiation, and division. THC can bind to receptors in the endocannabinoid system (ECS) helping to regulate cell division and potentially inhibiting or killing melanoma . As a result, cannabinoids have been used as therapeutic agents for several human and animal disorders like cancer.
Recent studies have indicated that targeting the endocannabinoid system with cannabinoids can reduce the growth of breast, colon, liver, and prostate cancer [4,5]. Cannabinoids have also been used to successfully treat cancer cachexia, increasing the appetite of cancer patients . In addition to increasing appetite, some patients even use cannabis to help alleviate pain and nausea caused by traditional treatments.
Medical cannabis and its derivatives can target tumor cells without exerting a cytotoxic effect on healthy cells which is its main benefit compared to chemotherapeutic agents which also affect cancerous tissues [7,8]. Cannabis extracts help to enhance survival rates and improve the quality of life in melanoma patients . Cannabinoids also help regulate the signaling pathways involved in cell division, inhibiting division or metastasis of cancer cells, enhancing autophagy, and inducing apoptosis. 
What Skin Cancer Symptoms Can MMJ Help?
Traditional treatment for skin cancer can cause a variety of unwanted symptoms. Treatment options for skin cancer will vary, depending on the size, type, depth and location of the tumors. Small skin cancers limited to the surface of the skin may not require treatment beyond an initial skin biopsy that removes the entire growth.
If additional treatment is needed, other options may include:
- Freezing: A physician may destroy some small, early skin cancers by freezing them with liquid nitrogen (cryosurgery). This causes the dead tissue to fall off when it thaws.
- Excisional surgery: This is when a doctor cuts out the cancerous tissue and a surrounding area of healthy skin.
- Mohs surgery: This procedure is for larger, recurring or difficult-to-treat skin cancers, which may include both basal and squamous cell carcinomas and is often used in areas where it’s necessary to conserve as much skin as possible. The physician will remove the skin growth layer by layer, examining each layer under the microscope, until no abnormal cells remain. This allows cancerous cells to be removed without taking away too much of surrounding healthy skin.
- Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy uses high-powered energy beams, such as X-rays, to kill cancer cells. This type of therapy comes with many unwanted side effects and may be an option when cancer can’t be completely removed during surgery.
- Chemotherapy: In chemotherapy, different drugs are used to kill cancer cells. Topical skin cancers can be given creams or lotions that contain anti-cancer agents but for cancers that have spread to other parts of the body systemic chemotherapy might be necessary.
In more serious cases where chemotherapy and radiation therapies are used, people can experience different unwanted symptoms that cannabis can help. These include:
- Antineoplastic Properties: Cannabis has been used in animal and lab testing and has shown that it may help slow down or stop tumor growth.
- Neuropathy: Neuropathy caused by nerve damage is a common complication of cancer treatments. One can experience numbness, weakness, burning or tingling in the hands and feet as a result of neuropathy but medical marijuana can help alleviate neuropathy pain.
- Cachexia or Anorexia: Cachexia is the occurrence of unintentional weight loss (wasting syndrome) causing decline in functional abilities and fatigue. Anorexia is a medical term that doctors use for “loss of appetite.” The FDA has approved the medicine Dronabinol, which is a synthetic cannabinoid, for anorexia but other medical marijuana products can be used as well.
Other symptoms may include
- Bone pain
- Numbness or weakness in your legs or arms
Patients can choose a variety of different medical cannabis products to help alleviate these symptoms. The following are some products that are available for qualified Florida Medical Marijuana patients:
- Marijuana Topicals: For localized pain, topical applications are often the best means of administering marijuana. A cream or lotion infused with marijuana can be applied directly to your skin. The pain-relieving effects are absorbed through the skin and begin to block the pain almost immediately without affecting any other areas of your body.
- Smoking Marijuana: This traditional method of consuming cannabis is familiar to many marijuana patients already. The dried leaves can be rolled into small joints or smoked in a pipe. Dosage can be inaccurate when medical marijuana is smoked, however, because while you are inhaling smoke from the one end, smoke is also escaping from the other end.
- Marijuana Vaping: Vaping, or vaporizing, uses steam instead of smoke to deliver the medicine. Inhaling the moist steam is easier on your lungs than smoke, and it is not as hot. Small, hand-held vaporizers are the size of large cigarettes. There are also countertop vaporizers available that are not portable but offer temperature and dosage control.
- Oral Products: Edibles, like pot brownies, are nothing new, but the industry has expanded to offer many options for consuming medical marijuana like gel capsules. When you administer marijuana orally, the reaction time is fairly slow because the marijuana travels through your digestive system before it enters your bloodstream. Oral products generally deliver a more concentrated dose of marijuana that is long lasting. Managing your dosage with edibles can be tricky, though, so you need to start very slow.
- Tinctures: Cannabis is soaked in an alcohol solution until its active properties are transferred to the liquid substance. These tinctures can be used for immediate effect by putting a couple drops under your tongue. Tinctures can be a quick and discrete way to administer medical marijuana.
If you are still curious about getting your medical marijuana card in Florida, here are some Frequently Asked Questions that might help ease some of your concerns. The compassionate Florida Marijuana Doctors at DocMJ are here to answer any additional questions you might have. Book your risk-free appointment today to get started on your path to natural relief today!
Dr. Glider is a board certified Internal Medicine Specialist. He received his Florida Medical Marijuana Physicians Certification in 2017 and was one of the first recommending physicians with DocMJ. In addition to medical marijuana recommendations, Dr. Glider continues to practice Internal and Geriatric Medicine in private practice. Additionally, he serves as Medical Director for a home health company, supervising and educating staff, as well as supervising an advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners for a transitional care program.
Dr. Glider graduated from the College of Osteopathic Medicine & Surgery in Des Moines, IA and completed his residency at Saddlebrook General Hospital in Saddlebrook, NJ. He has received several honors and awards throughout his professional career, including a City of Des Moines Merit Award and a Chamber of Commerce Award (Port St. Lucie, FL). Dr. Glider is an experienced and caring physician who is loved and respected by his peers and his patients.