Cancer Initiation, Progression and Resistance: Are Phytocannabinoids from Cannabis sativa L. Promising Compounds?

Molecules. 2021 May 2;26(9):2668. doi: 10.3390/molecules26092668.


Cannabis sativa L. is a source of over 150 active compounds known as phytocannabinoids that are receiving renewed interest due to their diverse pharmacologic activities. Indeed, phytocannabinoids mimic the endogenous bioactive endocannabinoids effects through activation of CB1 and CB2 receptors widely described in the central nervous system and peripheral tissues. All phytocannabinoids have been studied for their protective actions towards different biological mechanisms, including inflammation, immune response, oxidative stress that, altogether, result in an inhibitory activity against the carcinogenesis. The role of the endocannabinoid system is not yet completely clear in cancer, but several studies indicate that cannabinoid receptors and endogenous ligands are overexpressed in different tumor tissues. Recently, in vitro and in vivo evidence support the effectiveness of phytocannabinoids against various cancer types, in terms of proliferation, metastasis, and angiogenesis, actions partially due to their ability to regulate signaling pathways critical for cell growth and survival. The aim of this review was to report the current knowledge about the action of phytocannabinoids from Cannabis sativa L. against cancer initiation and progression with a specific regard to brain, breast, colorectal, and lung cancer as well as their possible use in the therapies. We will also report the known molecular mechanisms responsible for such positive effects. Finally, we will describe the actual therapeutic options for Cannabis sativa L. and the ongoing clinical trials.

Keywords: Cannabis sativa L.; cancer therapeutic agents; inflammation; phytocannabinoids.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Allosteric Site
  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Cannabinoids / chemistry
  • Cannabinoids / pharmacology*
  • Cannabis / chemistry*
  • Central Nervous System / drug effects
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Disease Progression
  • Drug Resistance, Neoplasm
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Humans
  • Immune System
  • Inflammation
  • Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Oxidative Stress
  • Phytochemicals / chemistry
  • Phytochemicals / pharmacology
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB1 / chemistry
  • Receptor, Cannabinoid, CB2 / chemistry
  • Treatment Outcome


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