Insights into the effects of the endocannabinoid system in cancer: a review

Br J Pharmacol. 2018 Jul;175(13):2566-2580. doi: 10.1111/bph.14331. Epub 2018 May 22.


In the last few decades, the endocannabinoid system has attracted a great deal of interest in terms of its applications to clinical medicine. In particular, its applications in cancer probably represent one of the therapeutic areas with most promise. On the one hand, expression of the endocannabinoid system is altered in numerous types of tumours, compared to healthy tissue, and this aberrant expression has been related to cancer prognosis and disease outcome, suggesting a role of this system in tumour growth and progression that depends on cancer type. On the other hand, cannabinoids exert an anticancer activity by inhibiting the proliferation, migration and/or invasion of cancer cells and also tumour angiogenesis. However, some cannabinoids, at lower concentrations, may increase tumour proliferation, inducing cancer growth. Enough data has been provided to consider the endocannabinoid system as a new therapeutic target in cancer, although further studies to fully establish the effect of cannabinoids on tumour progression are still needed.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Cannabinoids / pharmacology*
  • Cannabinoids / therapeutic use
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Endocannabinoids / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / pathology


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Cannabinoids
  • Endocannabinoids