Cannabinoids and cancer treatment

Cancer is among the leading causes of death worldwide, with 9.5 million deaths in 2018 alone. By 2040, the cancer-related death rate is expected to rise to 16.4 million per year. Research to combat this lethal disease has broadened its scope and added cannabinoids due to their medical benefits.

How do cannabinoids affect cancer cells?

Cannabinoids produce a drug-like effect by binding the CB1 and CB2 receptors of the endo-cannabinoids system. These receptors are seven-transmembrane domain receptors coupled to Gi/o protein, whose activation leads to the inhibition of adenylate cyclase, cAMP, and PKA, which ultimately downregulate gene transcription. Cannabinoids are also found to increase pro-apoptotic sphingolipid ceramide synthesis, thus produce anti-proliferative action. A few anti-cancerous effects of cannabinoids are not related to CB1/CB2 receptors.

Recent developments in cannabinoids research to treat cancer

Research on cannabinoids as a potential treatment for cancer started after discovering various growth-limiting, apoptosis-inducing, and antioxidant properties of cannabinoids.

A study performed in 1996 suggested the anti-tumor effect of cannabinoids on cancer cells and the protective effect on normal cells. In 2003 another research study observed enhanced efficacy of chemotherapy on brain tumors when administered with cannabinoids. A 2004 study found a protective effect of cannabinoids against colon cancer by exerting anti-inflammatory properties. The same study also found that cannabinoids aided anti-cancerous therapy in colon cancer.

In 2011, the American Association of Cancer Research observed that CBD could reduce the growth and spread of cancer in breast cancer, while in the same year National Institute of Health observed the therapeutic effect of THC and JWH-015 in lungs cancer. Cannabinoids also benefit cancer patients undergoing radiation or chemotherapy due to their antioxidant properties.

In 2020, a review was published in the international journal of Molecular sciences that elaborated the Endocannabinoids system as a target for drug therapy. The study concluded, “(…) cannabinoids target key signaling pathways affecting all the hallmarks of cancer”.

Cannabinoids that can treat cancer

Several studies reported that THC and anandamides act as cannabinoids receptor agonists and exert an anti-tumor effect in experimental models. THC also induces cancer cell death by up-regulating nuclear protein 1 (Nupr1) and pseudo-kinase tribbles homolog 3 (TRIB3). Cannabidiol (CBD) enhances reactive oxygen species production, activates TRPV2 receptors, and promotes cell death.  A 2020 review study found that “∆9-THC and CBD increased the cytostatic effects of chemotherapeutic drugs”.

Rare cannabinoids such as CBN, THCA, THCV, and CBG also produce an anti-tumor effect by reducing angiogenesis, activating apoptotic pathways, and killing cancer cells.

Types of cancers that cannabinoids help treat

Cannabinoids inhibit migration, invasion, and angiogenesis, thus help treat gastrointestinal cancers such as colorectal cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, brain cancer, pancreatic and thyroid cancer.

Benefits of cannabinoids in the treatment of cancer

Though research found promising cannabinoids in cancer treatment, these aren’t conclusive and require more advanced study. However, cannabinoids have proven efficacy as a complementary therapy. For example, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in the treatment of nausea and vomiting induced by chemotherapy. A combination of THC and CBD can also produce an analgesic effect in cancer patients. The rare cannabinoids CBN can help improve sleep as well as reduces pain sensations.

It is crucial to mention the preventive effect of rare cannabinoids such as CBG, CBN, THCA, and THCV. These cannabinoids produce reactive oxygen species andact as antioxidants, reduce inflammation, thus preventing colon cancer, and induce apoptosis. A 2015 study concluded that patients who consume cannabinoids have a 45% reduced risk of developing bladder cancer. In the light of the above research studies, it is safe to say that cannabinoids can effectively prevent tumorigenesis and exert a cytotoxic effect on tumor cells.

Side effects of cannabinoids in cancer

Cannabinoids have some mild side effects in the cancer patient population, such as drowsiness and hallucination. THC gets the patient high, thus causes mood changes and hallucinations.  The hallucination effect is potentiated with the concomitant administration of sleeping pills, alcohol, and anxiolytic drugs. Postural hypotension, dry mouth is also reported in cancer patients using cannabinoids.

Benefits of biosynthesized cannabinoids

Conventional methods to yield cannabinoids are time-consuming and labor-consuming. The end product is not enough to fulfill the current market demand for cannabinoids. While, the Biosynthesis of cannabinoids allows their products to be faster, cost-effective, and more sustainable than conventional methods. Biosynthetic cannabinoids grow through naturally occurring processes within a living organism. These processes of the living organism make the cannabinoids identical to the ones extracted from plants. Also, biosynthetic cannabinoids usually have higher quality, are organic, non-GMO, and free or almost free of undesirable byproducts.


A large number of clinical trials have shown promising data on the efficacy of cannabinoids in cancer treatment. However, Cannabinoids for cancer treatment need more advanced level scientific research and intervention to reduce their side effects. Biosynthesized cannabinoids produced by Biomedican are the best choice for cannabinoids related clinical trials.

A large number of cancer research studies have found the anti-tumor effect of cannabinoids. Advanced biosynthesis method has developed 100% organic, non-GMO and pharmaceutical grade cannabinoids that can be effective in cancer patients.

Saba IqbalAuthor posts

Dr. Saba Iqbal is a contributing writer for BioMedican. She's a clinical pharmacist turned writer. Dr. Saba's education includes a doctoral degree in pharmacy (Pharm D) from the University of Sargodha, Pakistan. In search of a career that would take advantage of her medical and pharmaceutical skills, Dr. Saba found medical writing – a career path a few medical students consider. In her journey "from a medical bench to pen," she has worked with several startups for many years managing content on biotech products, pharmaceuticals, drugs, devices, and techniques. While keeping up with the latest trends in medical writing, she aims to use her writing skills to clearly communicate complex scientific, medical, and health information to the potential investor and general audience.

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