Cannabinoids as anticancer therapeutic agents

Cell Cycle. 2020 May;19(9):961-989. doi: 10.1080/15384101.2020.1742952. Epub 2020 Apr 5.


The recent announcement of marijuana legalization in Canada spiked many discussions about potential health benefits of Cannabis sativa. Cannabinoids are active chemical compounds produced by cannabis, and their numerous effects on the human body are primarily exerted through interactions with cannabinoid receptor types 1 (CB1) and 2 (CB2). Cannabinoids are broadly classified as endo-, phyto-, and synthetic cannabinoids. In this review, we will describe the activity of cannabinoids on the cellular level, comprehensively summarize the activity of all groups of cannabinoids on various cancers and propose several potential mechanisms of action of cannabinoids on cancer cells.

Keywords: Cannabinoids; anti-tumor activity; cancer; cannabidiol; tetrahydrocannabinol.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / metabolism
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Cannabinoids / metabolism
  • Cannabinoids / therapeutic use*
  • Cannabis / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Phytotherapy / methods*
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / metabolism
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB2 / metabolism


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Cannabinoids
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB2

Grants and funding

We acknowledge NSERC CRD and MITACS grants to IK and OK.