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CBD and Skin Cancer: What Your Patients Should Know

Medically Reviewed By Amanda Caldwell, MSN, APRN-C

As interest in cannabidiol (CBD) for medicinal purposes continues to rise, researchers are stepping up to meet the challenge. Recently, this has included studying its potential in treating and preventing skin cancer. 

glass bottle with essential oils or herbal supplement

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the dozens of active substances called cannabinoids found in the Cannabis sativa plant. CBD and its cousin, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), are the most plentiful of the cannabinoids. A 2022 study Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source suggests topical cannabis may have anti-inflammatory and anti-itching properties on the skin.

Is there evidence that CBD can affect the skin? If so, what role could it play in treating or preventing skin conditions, including skin cancer? Does it matter if you apply it topically or take it systemically?

This articles takes a look at CBD and summarizes what we know so far about its potential role in skin cancer, in particular.

Potential benefits of CBD for skin cancer

Regarding CBD’s effects in skin tissue, research suggests the endocannabinoid system Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source  — the system of receptors CBD influences — is indeed active in the skin. Observational studies in atopic dermatitis and psoriasis show potential benefits by reducing local inflammation. So, it is possible that CBD influences immune-related processes in the skin, which could have an effect on skin cancer.

As with most areas of CBD research, exploration into its role in skin cancer treatment and prevention is in its infancy and available data is mostly preclinical. 

2022 review Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source  of cannabinoids in general found that these substance may reduce cancer cell proliferation and increase the rate at which they degrade or die. Specifically, systemic CBD seems to be a good candidate for further study in treating melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Topical CBD may have a role in prevention of these skin cancers.

The authors of this review encourage future research into finding which cannabinoids, or which combination of them, are most effective for each type of cancer and what dosages are appropriate.

There is also preclinical research studying CBD with other skin cancer therapies:

  • A 2023 preclinical study developed a combined therapy of 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) and CBD-loaded nanostructured lipid carrier gel for the treatment of non-melanoma skin cancer. The formulation resulted in greater tumor remission, better survival rate, reduction in tumor number, area, and volume with improved biochemical profile compared to the conventional gel.
  • A 2022 preclinical study Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source  explored the anticancer properties of CBD in melanoma cell lines alone and in combination with mitoxantrone and cisplatin. Results showed a reduction in cell viability and proliferation. This effect was additive with mitoxantrone, but antagonistic with cisplatin.

Potential risks of CBD for skin cancer

CBD is generally regarded as safe for most people. As any drug, it can have side effects; however, they are usually mild and commonly include diarrhea, fatigue, and sleepiness with oral formulations of CBD. There are warnings for hepatic injury and drug interactions in the labeling of the approved product, Epidiolex (a treatment for some forms of epilepsy).

With regard to drug interactions, CBD is both a substrate and an inhibitor of the cytochrome P450 enzyme system. This requires care when prescribing other medications, including certain cancer chemotherapy and small molecule inhibitors, with it. 

Topical CBD is also considered generally safe. It has not been shown to cause significant side effects. However, local reactions are possible. 

With all formulations of CBD, another potential risk relates to product consistency. CBD is a supplement, which means it is not regulated in the same way as a drug. As a result, product strength and purity are not guaranteed. Encourage patients to find manufacturers who provide a third party lab certificate of analysis to verify product purity.

Research still needed to learn more about CBD for skin cancer

Currently, many questions remain to be answered about using CBD for skin cancer. As the preclinical data reveal, this includes very important questions about using CBD in combination with cancer chemotherapeutics and other drugs. 

Controlled clinical trials are necessary to advance our understanding of CBD’s role in treating skin cancer. Until that level of data is available, it may be risky to use CBD in skin cancer treatment.

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  1. Baswan SM, et al. (2020). Therapeutic potential of cannabidiol (CBD) for skin health and disorders.
  2. Epidiolex (cannabidiol) oral solution. (2022).
  3. Hasan N, et al. (2023). Advanced multifunctional nano-lipid carrier loaded gel for targeted delivery of 5-flurouracil and cannabidiol against non-melanoma skin cancer.
  4. Makhakhe L. (2022). opical cannabidiol (CBD) in skin pathology - A comprehensive review and prospects for new therapeutic opportunities.
  5. Marzeda P, et al. (2022). Cannabidiol interacts antagonistically with cisplatin and additively with mitoxantrone in various melanoma cell lines – an isobolographic analysis.
  6. Ramer R, et al. (2022). Impact of cannabinoid compounds on skin cancer.

Medical Reviewer: Amanda Caldwell, MSN, APRN-C
Last Review Date: 2024 Apr 5
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