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Cannabinoids May Provide Valuable Therapeutic Approach for Melanoma

As the incidence of cutaneous melanoma continues to rise, novel therapies are in demand.  Immunotherapies have shown some promise, but not all patients respond. This highlights the importance of having multiple treatments available.


Cannabinoids, especially THC, bind to and activate two receptors expressed in many cancer cell types. Cannabinoids are currently being investigated as anticancer agents. Preclinical data demonstrate that THC exerts antitumor action a few different ways including the stimulation of autophagy. The aim of a recent study published in Journal of Investigative Dermatology study was to determine whether THC activates cytotoxic autophagy in melanoma cells in vitro and in vivo.


The use of cytotoxic autophagy to drive cancer cell death is an emerging concept for the development of novel cancer treatments. Autophagy is the principal lysosomal-mediated mechanism for the degradation of damaged or long-lived organelles and proteins. Typically, autophagy maintains normal turnover of cellular components, as well as responding to metabolic stress, but in pathological settings autophagy activation mediates defense against extracellular insults and pathogens. The current model for the role of autophagy in cancer is that in the early stages of tumor development, quality control by autophagy inhibits tumor growth, whereas in advanced cancer autophagy provides energy to meet the increased demands and a means to resist cell death. Autophagy thus plays a role in tumor growth and suppression. Recent evidence suggests that in some circumstances exacerbating or activating autophagy may result in cell death. The aberrant control of autophagy has emerged as a key driver of malignancy and therapy resistance in advanced melanoma.


The current study was able to show that the cannabinoid THC exerts its antitumor effect on melanoma cells, suggesting that cannabinoids may be of clinical benefit for metastatic melanoma.


Byline: Wendy Meltzer, MPH



[ Image by St. Louis Univ. Madrid ]

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