Cannabinoids, Medical Cannabis, and Colorectal Cancer Immunotherapy

“Colorectal cancer is a major public health problem. Unfortunately, currently, no effective curative option exists for this type of malignancy. The most promising cancer treatment nowadays is immunotherapy which is also called biological or targeted therapy.

This type of therapy boosts the patient’s immune system ability to fight the malignant tumor. However, cancer cells may become resistant to immunotherapy and escape immune surveillance by obtaining genetic alterations. Therefore, new treatment strategies are required.

In the recent decade, several reports suggest the effectiveness of cannabinoids and Cannabis sativa extracts for inhibiting cancer proliferation in vitro and in vivo, including intestinal malignancies.

Cannabinoids were shown to modulate the pathways involved in cell proliferation, angiogenesis, programmed cell death and metastasis. Because of that, they are proposed as adjunct therapy for many malignancies. By far less information exists on the potential of the use of cannabis in combination with immunotherapy.

Here, we explore the possibility of the use of cannabinoids for modulation of immunotherapy of colon cancer and discuss possible advantages and limitations.”

“Among new potential therapeutic approaches, treatment with cannabinoids and Cannabis sativa extracts have been shown to be efficient in inhibiting cancer growth in vitro and in vivo. It has been strongly suggested in the literature that cannabinoids and cannabis extracts can be used for the treatment of colorectal cancer. Evidence shows that cannabinoids have a high potential to be turned into promising drugs. It is obvious that these compounds can target the key signaling pathways of cancer development.”

Cannabidiol inhibits invasion and metastasis in colorectal cancer cells by reversing epithelial-mesenchymal transition through the Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway


“Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide, wherein distant metastasis is the main reason for death. The non-psychoactive phytocannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD) effectively induces the apoptosis of CRC cells. We investigated the role of CBD in the migration and metastasis of CRC cells.

CBD significantly inhibited proliferation, migration, and invasion of colon cancer cells in a dose- or time-dependent manner. CBD could also inhibit epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) by upregulating epithelial markers such as E-cadherin and downregulating mesenchymal markers such as N-cadherin, Snail, Vimentin, and HIF-1α. CBD could suppress the activation of the Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway, inhibit the expression of β-catenin target genes such as APC and CK1, and increase the expression of Axin1. Compared to the control group, the volume and weight of orthotopic xenograft tumors significantly decreased after the CBD treatment.

The results demonstrated that CBD inhibits invasion and metastasis in CRC cells. This was the first study elucidating the underlying molecular mechanism of CBD in inhibiting EMT and metastasis via the Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway in CRC cells. The molecular mechanism by which CBD inhibits EMT and metastasis of CRC cells was shown to be through the Wnt/β-catenin signaling pathway for the first time.”

Cannabinoid Receptor-1 suppresses M2 macrophage polarization in colorectal cancer by downregulating EGFR

Cell Death Discovery

“Cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2, have been implicated as emerging targets for cancer therapy. Herein, we investigated the potential regulation mechanism of CB1 and its implications in colorectal cancer. CB1 and EGFR expression were examined in colorectal cancer cell lines. The effects of CB1 agonist ACEA and its antagonist AM251 on the proliferation, migration and invasion of colorectal cancer cells and the expression of M1 and M2 macrophage markers were examined. EGFR overexpression was performed with plasmids containing EGFR gene. Tumor xenografts were constructed to explore the effects of CB1 activation on tumorigenesis. We showed that CB1 was downregulated while EGFR was upregulated in colorectal cancer cells. The activation of CB1 suppressed the proliferation, migration and invasion of colorectal cancer cells and the differentiation of M2 macrophages, while CB1 inhibition had opposite effects. Moreover, the alterations in tumorigenesis and M2 macrophage activation induced by CB1 activation were counteracted by EGFR overexpression. Besides, CB1 silencing promoted tumor cell proliferation and M2 polarization which was counteracted by EGFR knockdown. In vivo, CB1 activation also repressed tumorigenesis and M2 macrophage activation. The present study demonstrated that CB1 activation suppressed M2 macrophage through EGFR downregulation in colorectal cancers. These findings first unveiled the potential avenue of CB1 as a targeted therapy for colorectal cancer.”

“In conclusion, our study showed that CB1 activation suppressed tumor growth and M2 macrophage activation in colorectal cancer by downregulating EGFR. Our study provided the first evidence that CB1 activation was capable to suppress M2 macrophage activation. Since M2 macrophage are linked with immune evasion in various cancers, CB1 might be a promising target for cancer treatment.”

“The use of THC, or selective targeting of the CB1 receptor, may represent a novel strategy for colorectal cancer therapy.”

The Effectiveness and Safety of Medical Cannabis for Treating Cancer Related Symptoms in Oncology Patients

Frontiers in Pain Research (@FrontPain) / Twitter

“The use of medical cannabis (MC) to treat cancer-related symptoms is rising. However, there is a lack of long-term trials to assess the benefits and safety of MC treatment in this population. In this work, we followed up prospectively and longitudinally on the effectiveness and safety of MC treatment.

Oncology patients reported on multiple symptoms before and after MC treatment initiation at one-, three-, and 6-month follow-ups. Oncologists reported on the patients’ disease characteristics. Intention-to-treat models were used to assess changes in outcomes from baseline. MC treatment was initiated by 324 patients and 212, 158 and 126 reported at follow-ups.

Most outcome measures improved significantly during MC treatment for most patients (p < 0.005). Specifically, at 6 months, total cancer symptoms burden declined from baseline by a median of 18%, from 122 (82–157) at baseline to 89 (45–138) at endpoint (−18.98; 95%CI= −26.95 to −11.00; p < 0.001). Reported adverse effects were common but mostly non-serious and remained stable during MC treatment.

The results of this study suggest that MC treatment is generally safe for oncology patients and can potentially reduce the burden of associated symptoms with no serious MC-related adverse effects.

The main finding of the current study is that most cancer comorbid symptoms improved significantly during 6 months of MC treatment.

Additionally, we found that MC treatment in cancer patients was well tolerated and safe.”

“Cancer Pain Treatment Using Marijuana Safe and Effective, Large Study Finds”

Cannabidiol exerts anti-proliferative activity via a cannabinoid receptor 2-dependent mechanism in human colorectal cancer cells

International Immunopharmacology

“Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer incidence and mortality in the United States. Cannabidiol (CBD), the second most abundant phytocannabinoid in Cannabis sativa, has potential use in cancer treatment on the basis of many studies showing its anti-cancer activity in diverse types of cancer, including colon cancer. However, its mechanism of action is not yet fully understood.

In the current study, we observed CBD to repress viability of different human colorectal cancer cells in a dose-dependent manner. CBD treatment led to G1-phase cell cycle arrest and an increased sub-G1 population (apoptotic cells); it also downregulated protein expression of cyclin D1, cyclin D3, cyclin-dependent kinase 2 (CDK2), CDK4, and CDK6. CBD further increased caspase 3/7 activity and cleaved poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase, and elevated expression of endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress proteins including binding immunoglobulin protein (BiP), inositol-requiring enzyme 1α (IRE1α), phosphorylated eukaryotic initiation factor 2α (eIF2α), activating transcription factor 3 (ATF3), and ATF4.

We found that CBD repressed cell viability and induced apoptotic cell death through a mechanism dependent on cannabinoid receptor type 2 (CB2), but not on CB1, transient receptor potential vanilloid, or peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma. Anti-proliferative activity was also observed for other non-psychoactive cannabinoid derivatives including cannabidivarin (CBDV), cannabigerol (CBG), cannabicyclol (CBL), and cannabigerovarin (CBGV). Our data indicate that CBD and its derivatives could be promising agents for the prevention of human colorectal cancer.”

“CBD represses viability of human colorectal cancer cells.•

CBD induces cell cycle arrest and increases apoptosis and ER stress in human colorectal cancer cells.•

CBD represses cell viability and induces apoptotic cell death via a CB2-dependent mechanism.”

The Endocannabinoid System as a Pharmacological Target for New Cancer Therapies

“Despite the long history of cannabinoid use for medicinal and ritual purposes, an endogenous system of cannabinoid-controlled receptors, as well as their ligands and the enzymes that synthesise and degrade them, was only discovered in the 1990s. Since then, the endocannabinoid system has attracted widespread scientific interest regarding new pharmacological targets in cancer treatment among other reasons.

Meanwhile, extensive preclinical studies have shown that cannabinoids have an inhibitory effect on tumour cell proliferation, tumour invasion, metastasis, angiogenesis, chemoresistance and epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) and induce tumour cell apoptosis and autophagy as well as immune response. Appropriate cannabinoid compounds could moreover be useful for cancer patients as potential combination partners with other chemotherapeutic agents to increase their efficacy while reducing unwanted side effects.

In addition to the direct activation of cannabinoid receptors through the exogenous application of corresponding agonists, another strategy is to activate these receptors by increasing the endocannabinoid levels at the corresponding pathological hotspots. Indeed, a number of studies accordingly showed an inhibitory effect of blockers of the endocannabinoid-degrading enzymes fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) and monoacylglycerol lipase (MAGL) on tumour development and spread.

This review summarises the relevant preclinical studies with FAAH and MAGL inhibitors compared to studies with cannabinoids and provides an overview of the regulation of the endocannabinoid system in cancer.”

“Cannabinoids have been shown to suppress tumour cell proliferation, tumour invasion, metastasis, angiogenesis, chemoresistance and epithelial-mesenchymal transition and to induce tumour cell apoptosis, autophagy and immune response. This review focuses on the current status of investigations on the impact of inhibitors of endocannabinoid-degrading enzymes on tumour growth and spread in preclinical oncology research.”

Plant-derived cannabinoids as anticancer agents

“Substantial preclinical evidence demonstrates the antiproliferative, cytotoxic, and antimetastatic properties of plant-derived cannabinoids (phytocannabinoids) such as cannabidiol and tetrahydrocannabinol. The cumulative body of research into the intracellular mechanisms and phenotypic effects of these compounds supports a logical, judicious progression to large-scale phase II/III clinical trials in certain cancer types to truly assess the efficacy of phytocannabinoids as anticancer agents.”

Cannabinoids as anticancer drugs: current status of preclinical research

“Drugs that target the endocannabinoid system are of interest as pharmacological options to combat cancer and to improve the life quality of cancer patients. From this perspective, cannabinoid compounds have been successfully tested as a systemic therapeutic option in a number of preclinical models over the past decades. As a result of these efforts, a large body of data suggests that the anticancer effects of cannabinoids are exerted at multiple levels of tumour progression via different signal transduction mechanisms. Accordingly, there is considerable evidence for cannabinoid-mediated inhibition of tumour cell proliferation, tumour invasion and metastasis, angiogenesis and chemoresistance, as well as induction of apoptosis and autophagy. Further studies showed that cannabinoids could be potential combination partners for established chemotherapeutic agents or other therapeutic interventions in cancer treatment. Research in recent years has yielded several compounds that exert promising effects on tumour cells and tissues in addition to the psychoactive Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol, such as the non-psychoactive phytocannabinoid cannabidiol and inhibitors of endocannabinoid degradation. This review provides an up-to-date overview of the potential of cannabinoids as inhibitors of tumour growth and spread as demonstrated in preclinical studies.”

Cannabidiol and Other Phytocannabinoids as Cancer Therapeutics

“Preclinical models provided ample evidence that cannabinoids are cytotoxic against cancer cells. Among the best studied phytocannabinoids, cannabidiol (CBD) is most promising for the treatment of cancer as it lacks the psychotomimetic properties of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). In vitro studies and animal experiments point to a concentration- (dose-)dependent anticancer effect. The effectiveness of pure compounds versus extracts is the subject of an ongoing debate. Actual results demonstrate that CBD-rich hemp extracts must be distinguished from THC-rich cannabis preparations. Whereas pure CBD was superior to CBD-rich extracts in most in vitro experiments, the opposite was observed for pure THC and THC-rich extracts, although exceptions were noted. The cytotoxic effects of CBD, THC and extracts seem to depend not only on the nature of cannabinoids and the presence of other phytochemicals but also largely on the nature of cell lines and test conditions. Neither CBD nor THC are universally efficacious in reducing cancer cell viability. The combination of pure cannabinoids may have advantages over single agents, although the optimal ratio seems to depend on the nature of cancer cells; the existence of a ‘one size fits all’ ratio is very unlikely. As cannabinoids interfere with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a better understanding of the circadian rhythmicity of the ECS, particularly endocannabinoids and receptors, as well as of the rhythmicity of biological processes related to the growth of cancer cells, could enhance the efficacy of a therapy with cannabinoids by optimization of the timing of the administration, as has already been reported for some of the canonical chemotherapeutics. Theoretically, a CBD dose administered at noon could increase the peak of anandamide and therefore the effects triggered by this agent. Despite the abundance of preclinical articles published over the last 2 decades, well-designed controlled clinical trials on CBD in cancer are still missing. The number of observations in cancer patients, paired with the anticancer activity repeatedly reported in preclinical in vitro and in vivo studies warrants serious scientific exploration moving forward.”

Cannabis as a potential compound against various malignancies, legal aspects, advancement by exploiting nanotechnology and clinical trials

“Various preclinical and clinical studies exhibited the potential of cannabis against various diseases, including cancer and related pain. Subsequently, many efforts have been made to establish and develop cannabis-related products and make them available as prescription products. Moreover, FDA has already approved some cannabis-related products, and more advancement in this aspect is still going on. However, the approved product of cannabis is in oral dosage form, which exerts various limitations to achieve maximum therapeutic effects. A considerable translation is on a hike to improve bioavailability, and ultimately, the therapeutic efficacy of cannabis by the employment of nanotechnology. Besides the well-known psychotropic effects of cannabis upon the use at high doses, literature has also shown the importance of cannabis and its constituents in minimising the lethality of cancer in the preclinical models. This review discusses the history of cannabis, its legal aspect, safety profile, the mechanism by which cannabis combats with cancer, and the advancement of clinical therapy by exploiting nanotechnology. A brief discussion related to the role of cannabinoid in various cancers has also been incorporated. Lastly, the information regarding completed and ongoing trials have also been elaborated.”