Antitumor Effects of Cannabis sativa Bioactive Compounds on Colorectal Carcinogenesis

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“Cannabis sativa is a multipurpose plant that has been used in medicine for centuries. Recently, considerable research has focused on the bioactive compounds of this plant, particularly cannabinoids and terpenes. Among other properties, these compounds exhibit antitumor effects in several cancer types, including colorectal cancer (CRC). Cannabinoids show positive effects in the treatment of CRC by inducing apoptosis, proliferation, metastasis, inflammation, angiogenesis, oxidative stress, and autophagy. Terpenes, such as β-caryophyllene, limonene, and myrcene, have also been reported to have potential antitumor effects on CRC through the induction of apoptosis, the inhibition of cell proliferation, and angiogenesis. In addition, synergy effects between cannabinoids and terpenes are believed to be important factors in the treatment of CRC. This review focuses on the current knowledge about the potential of cannabinoids and terpenoids from C. sativa to serve as bioactive agents for the treatment of CRC while evidencing the need for further research to fully elucidate the mechanisms of action and the safety of these compounds.”

“Data suggest that cannabinoids exert advantages in the treatment of CRC, mostly by inducing apoptosis, although some evidence also points out that they may target other key therapeutic events, such as proliferation, metastasis, inflammation, angiogenesis, oxidative stress, and autophagy. The currently available data on this subject refer mostly to the C. sativa major cannabinoids, i.e., CBD, THC, and CBG, but several pieces of evidence suggest that minor cannabinoids and other bioactive compounds such as terpenes also may hold potential as therapeutic agents for CRC. Data also suggest that certain combinations of cannabinoids and terpenes in C. sativa extracts can lead to a synergistic action known as the “entourage effect,” which has been linked to certain pharmacological benefits. The potential therapeutic benefits of the cannabinoids and terpenes from this plant make them key candidates for further drug development.”

Cannabinoid compounds in combination with curcumin and piperine display an anti-tumorigenic effect against colon cancer cells

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“Currently, use of cannabinoids is limited to improve adverse effects of chemotherapy and their palliative administration during treatment is curiously concomitant with improved prognosis and regressed progression in patients with different tumor types. Although, non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabigerol (CBG) display antineoplastic effects by repressing tumor growth and angiogenesis both in cell line and animal models, their use as chemotherapeutic agents is awaiting further investigation. Both clinical and epidemiological evidence supported by experimental findings suggest that micronutrients such as curcumin and piperine may present a safer strategy in preventing tumorigenesis and its recurrence. Recent studies demonstrated that piperine potentiates curcumin’s inhibitory effect on tumor progression via enhancing its delivery and therapeutic activity. In this study, we investigated a plausible therapeutic synergism of a triple combination of CBD/CBG, curcumin, and piperine in the colon adenocarcinoma using HCT116 and HT29 cell lines. Potential synergistic effects of various combinations including these compounds were tested by measuring cancer cell proliferation and apoptosis. Our findings revealed that different genetic backgrounds of HCT116 and HT29 cell lines resulted in divergent responses to the combination treatments. Triple treatment showed synergism in terms of exhibiting anti-tumorigenic effects by activating the Hippo YAP signaling pathway in the HCT116 cell line.”

“This study demonstrates that combination of curcumin, piperine and cannabinoid variants inhibit cell proliferation and induce apoptosis drastically in distinct models of colorectal cancer. Intriguingly, our findings point out that the compounds of interest, each of which are already known for their anti-tumorigenic and preventive role in colon cancer as single agents, displayed an augmented therapeutic effect in the cell lines tested. In the HT29 cell line, CBG significantly reduced cell proliferation and induced apoptosis as a monotherapy agent, whereas these anti-tumorigenic effects were overridden in the presence of curcumin/piperine. Therefore, findings from this study suggest a benefit in using cannabinoid compounds as single anti-cancer agents in the treatment of those colon carcinoma tumors that carry a genetic profile similar to that of the HT29 cell line. One major limitation of the current study was to reconcile these findings with the cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1 receptor) and cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2 receptor) expression profile of the cell lines used. Therefore, in future studies the link between the anti-tumorigenic effects of single cannabinoid compounds or their cocktails and the cannabinoid receptor expression should be interrogated to shed light on the differences in the responses of these cells to distinct cannabinoid-based regimens. In addition to the cannabinoid receptor status, role of other mutations in driver genes should be subject to more rigorous mechanistic studies to fully understand their role in determining the drug mechanism of action and the response to distinct treatment schemes involving cannabinoids as single agents their various combinations.”

Therapeutic targeting of the tumor microenvironments with cannabinoids and their analogs: Update on clinical trials

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“Cancer is a major global public health concern that affects both industrialized and developing nations. Current cancer chemotherapeutic options are limited by side effects, but plant-derived alternatives and their derivatives offer the possibilities of enhanced treatment response and reduced side effects.

A plethora of recently published articles have focused on treatments based on cannabinoids and cannabinoid analogs and reported that they positively affect healthy cell growth and reverse cancer-related abnormalities by targeting aberrant tumor microenvironments (TMEs), lowering tumorigenesis, preventing metastasis, and/or boosting the effectiveness of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Furthermore, TME modulating systems are receiving much interest in the cancer immunotherapy field because it has been shown that TMEs have significant impacts on tumor progression, angiogenesis, invasion, migration, epithelial to mesenchymal transition, metastasis and development of drug resistance.

Here, we have reviewed the effective role of cannabinoids, their analogs and cannabinoid nano formulations on the cellular components of TME (endothelial cells, pericytes, fibroblast and immune cells) and how efficiently it retards the progression of carcinogenesis is discussed. The article summarizes the existing research on the molecular mechanisms of cannabinoids regulation of the TME and finally highlights the human studies on cannabinoids’ active interventional clinical trials.

The conclusion outlines the need for future research involving clinical trials of cannabinoids to demonstrate their efficacy and activity as a treatment/prevention for various types of human malignancies.”

The protective effect of cannabinoids against colorectal cancer cachexia through modulation of inflammation and immune responses

Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy

“Cancer cachexia is a multifactorial disorder characterized by weight loss and muscle wasting, and there are currently no FDA-approved medications. In the present study, upregulation of six cytokines was observed in serum samples from patients with colorectal cancer (CRC) and in mouse models. A negative correlation between the levels of the six cytokines and body mass index in CRC patients was seen. Gene Ontology analysis revealed that these cytokines were involved in regulating T cell proliferation. The infiltration of CD8+ T cells was found to be associated with muscle atrophy in mice with CRC. Adoptive transfer of CD8+ T cells isolated from CRC mice resulted in muscle wasting in recipients.

The Genotype-Tissue Expression database showed that negative correlations between the expression of cachexia markers and cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2) in human skeletal muscle tissues. Pharmacological treatment with Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC), a selective CB2 agonist or overexpression of CB2 attenuated CRC-associated muscle atrophy. In contrast, knockout of CB2 with a CRISPR/Cas9-based strategy or depletion of CD8+ T cells in CRC mice abolished the Δ9-THC-mediated effects.

This study demonstrates that cannabinoids ameliorate CD8+ T cell infiltration in CRC-associated skeletal muscle atrophy via a CB2-mediated pathway. Serum levels of the six-cytokine signature might serve as a potential biomarker to detect the therapeutic effects of cannabinoids in CRC-associated cachexia.”

“In recent years, researchers have gradually found that marijuana, in addition to recreational use, has potential applications as a supportive therapy or palliative medicine.

In conclusion, our findings indicate that the infiltration of CD8+ T cells in skeletal muscle plays a vital role in CRC-associated muscle atrophy. Treatment with Δ9-THC or CB65 can ameliorate CRC-associated cachexia and muscle atrophy by activating CB2 in CD8+ T cells. Targeting the CB2 receptor in CD8+ T cells should be evaluated as a therapeutic option for CRC patients who develop cachexia, and the six-cytokine signature in serum might serve as a potential biomarker for the therapeutic effects of cannabinoids in CRC-associated cachexia.”

The Anti-Tumorigenic Role of Cannabinoid Receptor 2 in Colon Cancer: A Study in Mice and Humans


“The endocannabinoid system, particularly cannabinoid receptor 2 (CB2 in mice and CNR2 in humans), has controversial pathophysiological implications in colon cancer.

Here, we investigate the role of CB2 in potentiating the immune response in colon cancer in mice and determine the influence of CNR2 variants in humans. Comparing wild-type (WT) mice to CB2 knockout (CB2-/-) mice, we performed a spontaneous cancer study in aging mice and subsequently used the AOM/DSS model of colitis-associated colorectal cancer and a model for hereditary colon cancer (ApcMin/+). Additionally, we analyzed genomic data in a large human population to determine the relationship between CNR2 variants and colon cancer incidence.

Aging CB2-/- mice exhibited a higher incidence of spontaneous precancerous lesions in the colon compared to WT controls. The AOM/DSS-treated CB2-/- and ApcMin/+CB2-/- mice experienced aggravated tumorigenesis and enhanced splenic populations of immunosuppressive myeloid-derived suppressor cells along with abated anti-tumor CD8+ T cells. Importantly, corroborative genomic data reveal a significant association between non-synonymous variants of CNR2 and the incidence of colon cancer in humans.

Taken together, the results suggest that endogenous CB2 activation suppresses colon tumorigenesis by shifting the balance towards anti-tumor immune cells in mice and thus portray the prognostic value of CNR2 variants for colon cancer patients.”

A zebrafish HCT116 xenograft model to predict anandamide outcomes on colorectal cancer

Cell Death & Disease

“Colon cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. In recent years, cannabinoids have been extensively studied for their potential anticancer effects and symptom management. Several in vitro studies reported anandamide’s (AEA) ability to block cancer cell proliferation and migration, but evidence from in vivo studies is still lacking. Thus, in this study, the effects of AEA exposure in zebrafish embryos transplanted with HCT116 cells were evaluated.

Totally, 48 hpf xenografts were exposed to 10 nM AEA, 10 nM AM251, one of the cannabinoid 1 receptor (CB1) antagonist/inverse agonists, and to AEA + AM251, to verify the specific effect of AEA treatment. AEA efficacy was evaluated by confocal microscopy, which demonstrated that these xenografts presented a smaller tumor size, reduced tumor angiogenesis, and lacked micrometastasis formation.

To gain deeper evidence into AEA action, microscopic observations were completed by molecular analyses. RNA seq performed on zebrafish transcriptome reported the downregulation of genes involved in cell proliferation, angiogenesis, and the immune system. Conversely, HCT116 cell transcripts resulted not affected by AEA treatment. In vitro HCT116 culture, in fact, confirmed that AEA exposure did not affect cell proliferation and viability, thus suggesting that the reduced tumor size mainly depends on direct effects on the fish rather than on the transplanted cancer cells.

AEA reduced cell proliferation and tumor angiogenesis, as suggested by socs3 and pcnp mRNAs and Vegfc protein levels, and exerted anti-inflammatory activity, as indicated by the reduction of il-11a, mhc1uba, and csf3b mRNA. Of note, are the results obtained in groups exposed to AM251, which presence nullifies AEA’s beneficial effects.

In conclusion, this study promotes the efficacy of AEA in personalized cancer therapy, as suggested by its ability to drive tumor growth and metastasis, and strongly supports the use of zebrafish xenograft as an emerging model platform for cancer studies.”

“Collectively, our data suggest a pivotal role of AEA in the anti-angiogenic, anti-proliferative, and anti-inflammatory process in intercellular tumor-endothelial cell communication resulting in the containment of tumor and evidenced that zebrafish larvae xenografts constitute a promising fast assay for precision medicine, bridging the gap between genotype and phenotype in an in vivo setting.”

Selective Cytotoxicity of Medical Cannabis ( Cannabis sativa L.) Extracts Across the Whole Vegetation Cycle Under Various Hydroponic and Nutritional Treatments

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“Introduction: The use of Cannabis sativa L. in health care requires stringent care for the optimal production of the bioactive compounds. However, plant phenotypes and the content of secondary metabolites, such as phytocannabinoids, are strongly influenced by external factors, such as nutrient availability. It has been shown that phytocannabinoids can exhibit selective cytotoxicity against various cancer cell lines while protecting healthy tissue from apoptosis. 

Research Aim: This study aimed to clarify the cytotoxic effect of cannabis extracts on colorectal cell lines by identifying the main active compounds and determining their abundance and activity across all developmental stages of medical cannabis plants cultivated under hydroponic conditions. 

Materials and Methods: Dimethyl sulfoxide extracts of medical cannabis plants bearing the genotype classified as chemotype I were analyzed by high-performance liquid chromatography, and their cytotoxic activity was determined by measuring cell viability by methylthiazolyldiphenyl-tetrazolium bromide assay on the human colon cancer cell lines, Caco-2 and HT-29, and the normal human epithelial cell line, CCD 841 CoN. 

Results: The most abundant phytocannabinoid in cannabis extracts was tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA). Its maximum concentrations were reached from the 7th to the 13th plant vegetation week, depending on the nutritional cycle and treatment. Almost all extracts were cytotoxic to the human colorectal cancer (CRC) cell line HT-29 at lower concentrations than the other cell lines. The phytocannabinoids that most affected the cytotoxicity of individual extracts on HT-29 were cannabigerol, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol, cannabidiol, cannabigerolic acid, and THCA. The tested model showed almost 70% influence of these cannabinoids. However, THCA alone influenced the cytotoxicity of individual extracts by nearly 65%. 

Conclusions: Phytocannabinoid extracts from plants of the THCA-dominant chemotype interacted synergistically and showed selective cytotoxicity against the CRC cell line, HT-29. This positive extract response indicates possible therapeutic value.”

Supercritical Extract of Cannabis sativa Inhibits Lung Metastasis in Colorectal Cancer Cells by Increasing AMPK and MAPKs-Mediated Apoptosis and Cell Cycle Arrest


“Colorectal cancer (CRC) is one of the diseases with the highest rates of prevalence and mortality despite therapeutic methods in the world. In particular, there are not enough methods to treat metastasis of CRC cells to distant organs. Cannabis sativa Linne (C. sativa) is a popular medicinal plant used by humans to treat many diseases. Recently, extracts of C. sativa have shown diverse pharmacological effects as a result of choosing different extraction methods. In this study, we performed experiments to confirm the inhibitory effect and related mechanisms of supercritical extract of C. sativa on metastatic CRC cells. The effect of SEC on the viability of CRC cell lines, CT26 and HCT116, was determined using CCK reagent. Flow cytometry was performed to confirm whether SEC can promote cell cycle arrest and apoptosis. Additionally, SEC reduced proliferation of CT26 and HCT116 cells without causing toxicity to normal colon cell line CCD-18Co cells. SEC treatment reduced colony formation in both CRC cell lines, promoted G0/G1 phase arrest and apoptosis in CT26 and HCT116 cells through AMPK activation and MAPKs such as ERK, JNK, and p38 inactivation. Moreover, oral administration of SEC decreased pulmonary metastasis of CT26 cells. Our research demonstrates the inhibitory effect of SEC on CRC cell proliferation and metastasis. Thus, SEC might have therapeutic potential for CRC treatment.”

Role of Cannabidiol for Improvement of the Quality of Life in Cancer Patients: Potential and Challenges


“There is currently a growing interest in the use of cannabidiol (CBD) to alleviate the symptoms caused by cancer, including pain, sleep disruption, and anxiety. CBD is often self-administered as an over-the-counter supplement, and patients have reported benefits from its use. However, despite the progress made, the mechanisms underlying CBD’s anti-cancer activity remain divergent and unclear. Herein, we provide a comprehensive review of molecular mechanisms to determine convergent anti-cancer actions of CBD from pre-clinical and clinical studies. In vitro studies have begun to elucidate the molecular targets of CBD and provide evidence of CBD’s anti-tumor properties in cell and mouse models of cancer. Furthermore, several clinical trials have been completed testing CBD’s efficacy in treating cancer-related pain. However, most use a mixture of CBD and the psychoactive, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and/or use variable dosing that is not consistent between individual patients. Despite these limitations, significant reductions in pain and opioid use have been reported in cancer patients using CBD or CBD+THC. Additionally, significant improvements in quality-of-life measures and patients’ overall satisfaction with their treatment have been reported. Thus, there is growing evidence suggesting that CBD might be useful to improve the overall quality of life of cancer patients by both alleviating cancer symptoms and by synergizing with cancer therapies to improve their efficacy. However, many questions remain unanswered regarding the use of CBD in cancer treatment, including the optimal dose, effective combinations with other drugs, and which biomarkers/clinical presentation of symptoms may guide its use.”

“CBD has great potential to improve the lives of cancer patients both by alleviating the symptoms of pain, sleep disturbance, and anxiety, but also by synergistic activity with anti-cancer treatments to reverse or eliminate the growth of tumors causing these symptoms. Pre-clinical evidence in cell and mouse models supports the use of CBD as an anti-cancer therapy; however, clinical knowledge is currently lacking in this area. The effectiveness of CBD has been demonstrated in models of lung, breast, and colon cancer, as well as leukemia and glioblastoma. CBD has been shown to be toxic to cancer cells in vitro, and it is also generally well tolerated in the clinic.”

The Synthetic Cannabinoid URB447 Exerts Antitumor and Antimetastatic Effect in Melanoma and Colon Cancer


“The endocannabinoid system is widespread through the body and carries out a wide variety of functions. However, its involvement in other pathologies, such as cancer, still needs further attention. We aim to investigate the role of CB2 receptor during melanoma and colorectal cancer (CRC) aggressiveness and metastatic growth in the liver. We used the synthetic cannabinoid URB447, a known CB2 agonist and CB1 antagonist drug, and studied prometastatic ability of mouse B16 melanoma and MCA38 CRC cells, by means of proliferation, apoptosis, cell cycle, migration and matrix degradation in vitro upon URB447 treatment. We reported a dose-dependent viability decrease in both tumor types. This result is partly mediated by apoptotic cell death and cell cycle arrest in G1/G0 phase, as observed through flow cytometry. Melanoma and CRC cell migration was affected in a dose-dependent fashion as observed through scratch assay, whereas the secretion of matrix degrading proteins metalloprotease 2 (MMP2) and 9 (MMP9) in tumor cells did not significantly change. Moreover, daily treatment of tumor bearing mice with URB447 decreased the development of liver metastasis in a melanoma model in vivo. This proof of concept study points out to the synthetic cannabinoid URB447 as a potential candidate for deeper studies to confirm its potential as antitumor therapy and liver metastasis treatment for CRC and melanoma.”