Cannabinoid medications have been used with great success for the treatment of nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite associated with chemotherapy. More recently studies have demonstrated that cannabidiol exhibits anti-tumorigenic properties. While this research is promising, it is not recommend that these products be used in isolation as a treatment, cure or prevention for cancer or any other neoplastic diseases, rather cannabinoid product may be used as an adjunct to conventional therapies. The first evidence, in 1974, to show the anticancer effect of cannabinoids, found that Delta-9-THC, Delta-8-THC and cannabidiol inhibited the growth of lung cancer cells in vitro (in a test tube) as well as in mice. Since then cannabinoids, including cannabidiol (CBD), have been shown to exert anti-proliferative and pro-apoptotic effects in various cancer types in vitro including:
Lung, Lymphoma, Uterus, Prostate, Glioma, Skin, Thyroid, Colorectal, Pancreas, Breast
Cancer cells avoid the natural process of programmed cell death called apoptosis. Cancer cells also produce enzymes in order to become invasive and spread. Additionally new blood vessels are formed in the surrounding area to provide oxygen and nutrients. The endocannabinoid system has been implicated in the control of apoptosis, enzyme production and angiogenesis (formation of new blood vessels).
This image is a simplification for website aesthetics only. For more information please refer to the clinical studies referenced below.
Explanation of Key Terms
- Proliferation is the increase in cell number due to expedited cell division.
- Cell viability is a measure of the total number of living cells in a sample.
- Invasion or infiltration describes the ability of cancerous cells to spread beyond the layer of tissue in which it developed.
- Metastases or migration is the way cancerous cells spread by entering the bloodstream or the lymphatic system which enables travel to a new location in the body and subsequent growth of secondary tumours.
- Angiogenesis refers to the new blood vessels that are formed in order to supply tumours with oxygen and nutrients in order to propagate and grow.
- Apoptosis means programmed cell death, something that malignant cells manage to avoid.
How do Scientists Think Cannabidiol Affects Cancer Cells?
‘Cannabidiol exhibits pro-apoptotic and anti-proliferative actions in different types of tumors and may also exert anti-migratory, anti-invasive, anti-metastatic and perhaps anti-angiogenic properties. Interestingly, the anticancer effect of this compound seems to be selective for cancer cells, at least in vitro, since it does not affect normal cell lines. The efficacy of CBD is linked to its ability to target multiple cellular pathways that control tumourigenesis through the modulation of different intracellular signaling depending on the cancer type considered.” On the basis of the results published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology “Cannabidiol as a potential anticancer drug” Massi et al. (2012) cannabidiol shows some evidence of reducing cancer cell proliferation and spread. While the results are promising, the research has mainly been conducted on animals; hence no conclusions as to the efficacy of CBD in treating cancer in humans can be made.
Aviello, G., Romano, B., Borrelli, F., Capasso, R., Gallo, L., Piscitelli, F., … & Izzo, A. A. (2012). Chemopreventive effect of the non-psychotropic phytocannabinoid cannabidiol on experimental colon cancer. Journal of molecular medicine, 90(8), 925-934.
Flygare, J., & Sander, B. (2008, June). The endocannabinoid system in cancer “Potential therapeutic target”. In Seminars in cancer biology (Vol. 18, No. 3, pp. 176-189). Academic Press.
Massi, P., Solinas, M., Cinquina, V., & Parolaro, D. (2013). Cannabidiol as potential anticancer drug. British journal of clinical pharmacology, 75(2), 303-312.
McAllister, S. D., Christian, R. T., Horowitz, M. P., Garcia, A., & Desprez, P. Y. (2007). Cannabidiol as a novel inhibitor of Id-1 gene expression in aggressive breast cancer cells. Molecular cancer therapeutics, 6(11), 2921-2927.
Osei-Hyiaman, D. (2007). Endocannabinoid system in cancer cachexia. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care, 10(4), 443-448.
Ramer, R., Bublitz, K., Freimuth, N., Merkord, J., Rohde, H., Haustein, M., … & Hinz, B. (2012). Cannabidiol inhibits lung cancer cell invasion and metastasis via intercellular adhesion molecule-1. The FASEB Journal, 26(4), 1535-1548.
Ramer, R., Heinemann, K., Merkord, J., Rohde, H., Salamon, A., Linnebacher, M., & Hinz, B. (2013). COX-2 and PPAR-? confer cannabidiol-induced apoptosis of human lung cancer cells. Molecular cancer therapeutics, 12(1), 69-82.
Ramer, R., Merkord, J., Rohde, H., & Hinz, B. (2010). Cannabidiol inhibits cancer cell invasion via upregulation of tissue inhibitor of matrix metalloproteinases-1. Biochemical pharmacology, 79(7), 955-966.
Scott, K. A., Shah, S., Dalgleish, A. G., & Liu, W. M. (2013). Enhancing the activity of cannabidiol and other cannabinoids in vitro through modifications to drug combinations and treatment schedules. Anticancer research, 33(10), 4373-4380
Shrivastava, A., Kuzontkoski, P. M., Groopman, J. E., & Prasad, A. (2011). Cannabidiol induces programmed cell death in breast cancer cells by coordinating the cross-talk between apoptosis and autophagy. Molecular cancer therapeutics, 10(7), 1161-1172