Cannabinoids and cancer

Mini Rev Med Chem. 2005 Oct;5(10):941-52. doi: 10.2174/138955705774329555.


Marijuana has been used in medicine for millennia, but it was not until 1964 that delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol (delta9-THC), its major psychoactive component, was isolated in pure form and its structure was elucidated. Shortly thereafter it was synthesized and became readily available. However, it took another decade until the first report on its antineoplastic activity appeared. In 1975, Munson discovered that cannabinoids suppress Lewis lung carcinoma cell growth. The mechanism of this action was shown to be inhibition of DNA synthesis. Antiproliferative action on some other cancer cells was also found. In spite of the promising results from these early studies, further investigations in this area were not reported until a few years ago, when almost simultaneously two groups initiated research on the antiproliferative effects of cannabinoids on cancer cells: Di Marzo's group found that cannabinoids inhibit breast cancer cell proliferation, and Guzman's group found that cannabinoids inhibit the growth of C6 glioma cell. Other groups also started work in this field, and today, a wide array of cancer cell lines that are affected is known, and some mechanisms involved have been elucidated.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Cannabinoids / pharmacology*
  • Cannabinoids / therapeutic use
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects*
  • DNA / antagonists & inhibitors
  • DNA / biosynthesis
  • Glioma / drug therapy
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms, Experimental
  • Receptors, Drug / drug effects*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Cannabinoids
  • Receptors, Drug
  • DNA