Can cannabinoids be used to treat cancer?

November 6, 2017, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc
Credit: Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers

When cannabinoids activate signaling pathways in cancer cells they can stimulate a cell death mechanism called apoptosis, unleashing a potent anti-tumor effect. Yet cannabinoids, which have also shown strong activity against human tumor tissue grown in animal models, have undergone minimal testing in patients. Their potential use as antitumor drugs and/or to boost the effectiveness of conventional cancer therapies is examined in an article published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (JACM).

In "A Review of the Therapeutic Antitumor Potential of Cannabinoids," coauthors Višnja Bogdanovic and Jasminka Mrdjanovic, Oncology Institute of Vojvodina (Sremska Kamenica, Serbia), and Ivana Borišev, University of Novi Sad (Serbia) present the results of a detailed survey of the medical and scientific literature focused on the effects of cannabinoids on signaling pathways involved in tumor cell proliferation and death. The researchers review the mechanisms of anticancer activity of cannabinoids, discuss the similarities and differences between exogenous (plant-derived) and endogenous cannabinoids, report on the clinical studies conducted to date to assess the anti-tumor effects of these compounds, and consider the possible adjuvant properties of cannabinoids in treatment.

"Although medical cannabis is well-supported in the literature for symptom reduction from or the disease itself, there are many claims that cannabis can treat cancer itself," says Leslie Mendoza Temple, MD, ABOIM, University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine and Medical Director, Integrative Medicine Program. "So far, this is based on only a handful of small human studies, anecdote, or laboratory research. This article nicely summarizes some of the work done in the lab for an understanding of cannabis' potential anti-cancer mechanisms, while pointing to the paucity of human trials." Dr. Temple adds, "Federal rescheduling of cannabis is critical so we can study its effects in humans and determine cannabis' direct or indirect effects on ."

"The value of the review from Bogdanovi?, Mrdjanovi?, and Borišev is describing the evidence landscape that is generating claims for this very political herb," says JACM Editor-in-Chief John Weeks, johnweeks-integrator.com, Seattle, WA. He adds: "The evidence supports freeing researchers to provide us with more answers."

Explore further: Cannabinoids used in sequence with chemotherapy are a more effective treatment for cancer

More information: Višnja Bogdanović et al, A Review of the Therapeutic Antitumor Potential of Cannabinoids, The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (2017). DOI: 10.1089/acm.2017.0016

Related Stories

Cannabinoids used in sequence with chemotherapy are a more effective treatment for cancer

June 5, 2017
New research has confirmed that cannabinoids - the active chemicals in cannabis - are effective in killing leukaemia cells, particularly when used in combination with chemotherapy treatments.

Study shows non-hallucinogenic cannabinoids are effective anti-cancer drugs

October 14, 2013
New research has shown that the non-hallucinogenic components of cannabis could act as effective anti-cancer agents.

Canada should continue with separate medical stream after cannabis is legalized for recreational use

July 17, 2017
After cannabis is legalized, Canada should continue with a separate medical cannabis stream to keep patients safe, argues a commentary in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal)

Cannabis extract can have dramatic effect on brain cancer, says new research

November 17, 2014
The new research by specialists at St George's, University of London, studied the treatment of brain cancer tumours in the laboratory and discovered that the most effective treatment was to combine active chemical components ...

Vaping cannabis may expose users to carcinogenic compounds

June 12, 2017
New research shows that the agents commonly mixed with cannabis oil for vaping can also produce cancer-causing compounds when heated. The effect is similar to the potential health risks linked to cigarette smoke and agents ...

Cannabinoids may soothe certain skin diseases, say researchers

April 18, 2017
Cannabinoids contain anti-inflammatory properties that could make them useful in the treatment of a wide-range of skin diseases, according to researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

Recommended for you

Scientists discover new method of diagnosing cancer with malaria protein

August 17, 2018
In a spectacular new study, researchers from the University of Copenhagen have discovered a method of diagnosing a broad range of cancers at their early stages by utilising a particular malaria protein that sticks to cancer ...

Researchers find pathways that uncover insight into development of lung cancer

August 17, 2018
Lung cancer is the leading cause of preventable cancer death. A disease of complex origin, lung cancer is usually considered to result from effects of smoking and from multiple genetic variants. One of these genetic components, ...

Developing an on-off switch for breast cancer treatment

August 17, 2018
T-cells play an important role in the body's immune system, and one of their tasks is to find and destroy infection. However, T-cells struggle to identify solid, cancerous tumors in the body. A current cancer therapy is using ...

Pregnant? Eating broccoli sprouts may reduce child's chances of breast cancer later in life

August 16, 2018
Researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have found that a plant-based diet is more effective in preventing breast cancer later in life for the child if the mother consumed broccoli while pregnant. The 2018 ...

Scientists discover chemical which can kill glioblastoma cells

August 15, 2018
Aggressive brain tumour cells taken from patients self-destructed after being exposed to a chemical in laboratory tests, researchers have shown.

Three scientists share $500,000 prize for work on cancer therapy

August 15, 2018
Tumors once considered untreatable have disappeared and people previously given months to live are surviving for decades thanks to new therapies emerging from the work of three scientists chosen to receive a $500,000 medical ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.