Cancer and Medical Cannabis

Cancer and Medical Cannabis | Kalapa Clinic


  • Orexigenic
  • Antiproliferative of tumor vascularization
  • Palliation for loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, pain and anxiety
  • Anticancer (promotes apoptosis of cancer cells)

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The effect of cannabinoids on cancer has a wide spectrum of research. The results of these studies suggest that cannabinoids could be beneficial as an adjuvant treatment for the pain of cancer and neuropathic pain as well as helping to facilitate the death of cancer cells, thus preventing their proliferation.


Cancer is known to be a number of diseases in which there is a division and an uncontrolled multiplication of the cellsin the body. In the absence of this illness, the human cells grow and split to form new cells as and when the body needs them. When the cells age or are damaged they die and new cells replace them.

In the case of cancer, this balance is broken and it produces an uncontrollable growth. Old or damaged cells do not die and there is continuous growth forming a tumour mass. These masses grow rapidly and to ensure its energy supply, they form their own blood vessels.

This can occur anywhere in the body and wherever a tumour is it can invade the surrounding tissue and cause metastasisat distant points around the body.

Adjuvant treatment for cancer

Nowadays, cannabinoids are being use as a palliative medicine thanks to its analgesic and antiemetic effects, but there are several studies indicating that it also possesses properties that may be of interest in combating cancer cells.

Because of this, it is being observed a substantial increment in scientific studies for the medical use of the cannabis plant. Nevertheless, further studies are still required since there are several cases involving cancer, therefore, at the moment there isn’t precise data at the preclinical and clinical level evaluating the anticancer characteristics in a reliable way.

Cannabis and its action against cancer

There are cannabinoids that have anti-tumor properties such as  THC  and CBD, among others. In pre-clinical models, it has been possible to demonstrate anti-tumor activity in different types of tumors such as brain tumors (Gliomas), Skin (Melanoma and Cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma), breast, pancreas, liver and prostate tumours, among others (Munson y cols., 1975Galve-Roperh y cols., 2000Velasco y cols., 2012Velasco y cols., 2016).

The cannabinoids activate the CB1 and CB2 receptors present in the tumor cells and thus initiate a complex route of intracellular signalling that causes the cells to die ( Carracedo y cols., 2006 Salazar y cols., 2009; Velasco y cols., 2012; Hernandez-Tiedra y cols., 2016).

In addition to inducing the “suicide” of the tumor cells, the cannabinoids also inhibit the secretion of the VEGF factor, necessary for the formation of blood vessels of the cancer. This means that the supply of nutrients needed for tumor growth is blocked (Blazquez y cols., 2003 Blazquez y cols., 2004).

A third antitumor effect is the cannabinoids ability to modulate the action of certain enzymes (Metalloproteasesinvolved in the remodelling of the extracellular matrix, which is an important aspect for the ability of migration and invasion of the tumour (Blazquez y cols., 2008 Velasco y cols., 2012 Velasco y cols., 2016 ).

In addition to the direct effects on the tumor and its growth, cannabinoids could provide beneficial effects as an adjuvant treatment for some types of tumours (cerebral gliomas). Studies with animals have shown that cannabinoids can potentiate both treatments with chemotherapy ( Torres y cols., 2011) and with Radiotherapy (Scott y cols., 2014 ).

In the palliative treatment (non-curative symptomatic treatment) of tumours, cannabinoids improve numerous symptoms that appear frequently during chemotherapy like nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, physical pains or insomnia.

Bibliography on Cancer and the use of Medicinal Cannabis

[1]  Munson AE, Harris LS, Friedman MA, Dewey WL y cols. Antineoplastic activity of cannabinoids. J Natl Cancer Inst 1975; 55: 597- 602.

[2]  Galve-Roperh I, Sanchez C, Cortes ML, Gómez del Pulgar T y cols.Anti-tumoral action of cannabinoids: involvement of sustained ceramide accumulation and extracellular signal-regulated kinase activation. Nat Med 2000; 6: 313-9.

[3]  Velasco G, Hernandez-Tiedra S, Davila DLorente M. The use of cannabinoids as anticancer agents. Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry 2016.

[4]  Velasco G, Sanchez C, Guzman M. Towards the use of cannabinoids as antitumour agents. Nat Rev Cancer 2012; 12: 436-44

[5]  Carracedo A, Lorente M, Egia A, Blazquez C y cols. The stress- regulated protein p8 mediates cannabinoid-induced apoptosis of tumor cells. Cancer Cell 2006; 9: 301-12.

[6]  Salazar M, Carracedo A, Salanueva IJ, Hernandez-Tiedra S y cols. Cannabinoid action induces autophagy-mediated cell death through stimulation of ER stress in human glioma cells. J Clin Invest 2009; 119: 1359-72.

[7]  Hernandez-Tiedra S, Fabrias G, Davila D, Salanueva IJ y cols. Dihydroceramide accumulation mediates cytotoxic autophagy of cancer cells via autolysosome destabilization. Autophagy 2016; 12: 2213-2229.

[8]  Blazquez C, Casanova ML, Planas A, Gómez del Pulgar T y cols. Inhibition of tumor angiogenesis by cannabinoids. FASEB J 2003; 17: 529-31.

[9]  Blazquez C, Gonzalez-Feria L, Alvarez L, Haro A y cols. Cannabinoids inhibit the vascular endothelial growth factor pathway in gliomas. Cancer Res 2004; 64: 5617-23.

[10]  Blazquez C, Salazar M, Carracedo A, Lorente M y cols. Cannabinoids inhibit glioma cell invasion by down-regulating matrix metal- loproteinase-2 expression. Cancer Res 2008; 68: 1945-52.

[11]  Torres S, Lorente M, Rodriguez-Fornes F, Hernandez-Tiedra S y cols. A combined preclinical therapy of cannabinoids and temozolomide against glioma. Mol Cancer Ther 2011; 10: 90- 103.

[12]  Scott KA, Dalgleish AGLiu WM. The combination of cannabidiol and Delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol enhances the anticancer effects of radiation in an orthotopic murine glioma model. Mol Can- cer Ther 2014; 13: 2955-67.

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