Antitumoral effects of cannabis in Notch1-mutated T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia

“In T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL), an aggressive hematologic cancer with poor clinical outcomes, more than 50% of cases show NOTCH1-driven transformation [1]. The NOTCH1 receptor signaling pathway is activated through a series of proteolytic cleavages, ultimately causing the release of the active intracellular domain (NICD), which translocates to the nucleus where it promotes transcription of target genes involved in cell growth. The importance of NOTCH1 mutations in T-ALL has generated great interest in the development of anti-NOTCH1 targeted therapies.

A new and promising emerging field in cancer treatment is medical cannabis. Accumulating evidence suggests the direct effects of cannabis on tumor progression in cell lines and animal models [2]. Cannabis, and its unique secondary metabolites, known as phytocannabinoids, directly affect the propagation of cancer cells by modulating key cellsignaling pathways.

We have previously demonstrated that different cannabis extracts, each containing a unique composition of metabolites, selectively impaired the survival of cancer cell lines depending on a match between the chemical composition of the extract and the characteristics of the specific cancer cell line.

In the present work, we set out to investigate whether cannabis extracts with unique phytocannabinoid profiles can selectively facilitate antitumor effects in T-ALL cells that harbor a Notch1 mutation.

In summary, targeting NOTCH1 signaling has generated much interest for its therapeutic potential. However, so far, efforts to develop such treatments have been unsuccessful.

The cannabis plant contains over 140 phytocannabinoids, many of which are presumed to have pharmacological properties, and accumulating evidence suggests anticancer capabilities.

Here, we identified a specific CBD-rich extract that selectively induced apoptosis in NOTCH1-mutated T-ALL cells. Although CBD by itself was able to induce cell death, the whole extract was more effective, suggesting that other metabolites from the plant are required to achieve full potency.

We have previously demonstrated this phenomenon in a mouse model of epilepsy, where CBD-rich extracts with equal amounts of CBD but varying concentrations of other minor compounds led to diverse anticonvulsant effects. A possible mechanism previously suggested to explain the difference between the effects of purified phytocannabinoids versus full-spectrum extracts is the “entourage effect”, where one compound may enhance the activity and efficacy of another on the same target. While this synergy is well-established for endogenous cannabinoids of the endocannabinoid system, only very few studies demonstrated this phenomenon for phytocannabinoids.

Cannabis is already being prescribed to cancer patients for its palliative qualities; however, the huge variety between different chemovars in their composition is disregarded. Matching an effective extract to certain cancer subtypes will ultimately lead to personalized cancer treatments and medications that not only treat symptoms but also treat the disease.

As dysregulation of NOTCH1 signaling has been found in various cancers other than T-ALL and in non-cancerous diseases, our findings suggest a novel therapeutic strategy for the effective treatment of a variety of malignancies.”

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.”

Hemp ( Cannabis sativa L., Kompolti cv.) and Hop ( Humulus lupulus L., Chinook cv.) Essential Oil and Hydrolate: HS-GC-MS Chemical Investigation and Apoptotic Activity Evaluation


“In this study, essential oils (EOs) and hydrolates (Hys) from Italian hemp (Cannabis sativa L. Kompolti cv.) and hop (Humulus Lupulus L., Chinook cv.) supply chains were chemically characterized and tested to investigate their apoptotic potential for the first time. Headspace-Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (HS-GC-MS) techniques were performed to describe their volatile chemical profile, highlighting a composition rich in terpene derivatives such as monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes among which β-myrcene, limonene, β-caryophyllene and α-humulene were the main constituents of EOs; in contrast, linalool, cisp-menth-2,8-dien-1-ol, terpinen-4-ol, α-terpineol, caryophyllene oxide, and τ-cadinol were found in the Hys.

The cytotoxicity activity on human leukemia cells (HL60), human neuroblastoma cells (SH-SY5Y), human metastatic adenocarcinoma breast cells (MCF7), human adenocarcinoma breast cells (MDA), and normal breast epithelial cell (MCF10A) for the EOs and Hys was studied by MTT assay and cytofluorimetric analysis and scanning and transmission electron microscopy were performed to define ultrastructural changes and the mechanism of cells death for HL 60 cells.

An induction of the apoptotic mechanism was evidenced for hemp and hop EOs after treatment with the corresponding EC50 dose. In addition, TEM and SEM investigations revealed typical characteristics induced by the apoptotic pathway. Therefore, thanks to the integration of the applied methodologies with the used techniques, this work provides an overview on the metabolomic profile and the apoptotic potential of hemp and hop EOs and, for the first time, also of Hys.

The findings of this preliminary study confirm that the EOs and Hys from Cannabis and Humulus species are sources of bioactive molecules with multiple biological effects yet to be explored.”

Effect of CB2 Stimulation on Gene Expression in Pediatric B-Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia: New Possible Targets


“Acute lymphoblastic leukemia type B (B-ALL) is the most common kind of pediatric leukemia, characterized by the clonal proliferation of type B lymphoid stem cells. Important progress in ALL treatments led to improvements in long-term survival; nevertheless, many adverse long-term consequences still concern the medical community. Molecular and cellular target therapies, together with immunotherapy, are promising strategies to overcome these concerns.

Cannabinoids, enzymes involved in their metabolism, and cannabinoid receptors type 1 (CB1) and type 2 (CB2) constitute the endocannabinoid system, involved in inflammation, immune response, and cancer. CB2 receptor stimulation exerts anti-proliferative and anti-invasive effects in many tumors.

In this study, we evaluated the effects of CB2 stimulation on B-ALL cell lines, SUP-B15, by RNA sequencing, Western blotting, and ELISA. We observe a lower expression of CB2 in SUP-B15 cells compared to lymphocytes from healthy subjects, hypothesizing its involvement in B-ALL pathogenesis. CB2 stimulation reduces the expression of CD9SEC61GTBX21, and TMSB4X genes involved in tumor growth and progression, and also negatively affects downstream intracellular pathways.

Our findings suggest an antitumor role of CB2 stimulation in B-ALL, and highlight a functional correlation between CB2 receptors and specific anti-tumoral pathways, even though further investigations are needed.”

“The antineoplastic role of cannabinoids in malignancy of the immune system, as well as in many other tumors, i.e., osteosarcoma, is well documented. Cannabinoids derive from the Cannabis plant, and interact with the cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2, principally expressed in the central nervous system and in peripheral and immune cells, respectively. These receptors, together with their specific ligands (endocannabinoids) and the enzymes involved in their own synthesis and degradation, constitute the endocannabinoid system (ECS). ECS is involved in many biological functions, such as pain management, regulation of appetite, control of bone metabolism, and, noteworthily, it modulates both inflammatory processes and immune response. Several authors proposed ECS as anticancer target for different neoplasms; in particular, a proper stimulation of CB2 receptors is responsible for counteracting tumor growth and progression. We demonstrate the involvement of ECS in this neoplasm and highlight the possibility to target it to arrest growth and progression of B-ALL

Our findings describe the involvement of CB2 receptors in the pathogenesis of B-ALL, and also propose its stimulation as an innovative and effective anticancer strategy. In particular, this approach is a “molecular target therapy approach”, since the selective triggering of cannabinoid modulates both gene and protein expression. We identified a specific anti-tumoral signature playing a key role in the development and maintenance of tumors, speculating a protective effect of CB2 selective stimulation. Certainly, further investigations are needed to better understand the molecular and biochemical mechanisms underlying the observed interactions, but our study seems to already highlight a good and beneficial therapeutic perspective to ameliorate the outcome for high-risk B-ALL patients.”

Investigating the Effects of a Synthetic Cannabinoid on the Pathogenesis of Leukemia and Leukemic Stem Cells: A New Therapeutic Approach

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“The popularity and usage of synthetic cannabinoids (SCs) are increasing due to their easy accessibility and psychoactive effects worldwide. Studies on cannabinoids on leukemic stem cells (LSC) and hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), which are the precursors of leukemia cells, generally depend on the natural cannabinoid delta-9-THC. As there is only a limited number of studies focusing on the results of SC applications, the reflections upon LSCs have to be clarified.

In this study, biological responses and antileukemic effects of JWH-018-one of the first produced and widely used SCs-were evaluated upon leukemia cells. Whether JWH-018 exhibited a preventive effect on both leukemic and HSCs was evaluated by presenting a therapeutic approach for the first time in the literature. Cells were analyzed in case of cell proliferation, apoptosis, and transcriptional expression profiling of some significant JAK/STAT and AKT/mTOR pathways, apoptotic, cell cycle regulation, and epigenetic chromatin remodeling-related genes following JWH-018 treatment.

In conclusion, however, further studies are still needed upon both HSCs and LSCs to illuminate the effects of SCs on leukemogenesis on chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) more clearly; we consider that the JWH-018 can provide a therapeutic effect on the pathogenesis of leukemia and particularly upon LSCs and SCs might have therapeutic potential in addition to current therapy.”

“Dronabinol has preferential antileukemic activity in acute lymphoblastic and myeloid leukemia with lymphoid differentiation patterns. Our study provides rigorous data to support clinical evaluation of THC as a low-toxic therapy option in a well defined subset of acute leukemia patients.”

“Cannabinoid CP55940 selectively induces apoptosis in Jurkat cells and in ex vivo T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia through H 2 O 2 signaling mechanism. Our findings support the use of cannabinoids as a potential treatment for T-ALL cells.”

“CP 55,940 is a synthetic cannabinoid which mimics the effects of naturally occurring THC (one of the psychoactive compounds found in cannabis)”,940

“Delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol-induced apoptosis in Jurkat leukemia T cells is regulated by translocation of Bad to mitochondria. Plant-derived cannabinoids, including Delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), induce apoptosis in leukemic cells”

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

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“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”

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.”