Endocannabinoids and Cancer

Handb Exp Pharmacol. 2015:231:449-72. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-20825-1_16.


A large body of evidence shows that cannabinoids, in addition to their well-known palliative effects on some cancer-associated symptoms, can reduce tumour growth in animal models of cancer. They do so by modulating key cell signalling pathways involved in the control of cancer cell proliferation and survival. In addition, cannabinoids inhibit angiogenesis and cell proliferation in different types of tumours in laboratory animals. By contrast, little is known about the biological role of the endocannabinoid system in cancer physio-pathology, and several studies suggest that it may be over-activated in cancer. In this review, we discuss our current understanding of cannabinoids as antitumour agents, focusing on recent advances in the molecular mechanisms of action, including resistance mechanisms and opportunities for combination therapy approaches.

Keywords: Angiogenesis; Apoptosis; Autophagy; Cancer; Cannabinoid; Cell proliferation; Cell signalling; Combinational therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists / therapeutic use
  • Cannabinoids / therapeutic use
  • Endocannabinoids / metabolism*
  • Endocannabinoids / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Cannabinoid Receptor Agonists
  • Cannabinoids
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid