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Cannabinoids in the Treatment of Cancer
Cannabinoids are composed of several classes of medically-efficient compounds, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabinol, and cannabidiol. They may be of a plant origin (phytocannabinoids), synthetic (JWH-133 and WIN 55,212-2), or naturally-produced in the body (endocannabinoids). The biological action of cannabinoids is exerted on their specific receptors, either of type 1 (CB1) or type 2 (CB2). Activation of these receptors has been shown to promote cellular division and improve cellular function through specific biological mechanisms. However, the experimental studies showed that some cannabinoids, such as THC and cannabinol, inhibited the growth of lung cancer cells, possibly through the stimulation of cancer cell death. Since such effects are variably demonstrated with each cannabinoid among different cancer research, the present study reviewed the potential use of cannabinoid treatment for cancer.
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Cannabinoids and cancer cells
Studies conducted on the laboratory animals and human have shown that cannabinoids have an important effect against the proliferation and spread of cancer cells. In addition, they inhibit new blood vessel formation during the pathologic processes of tumor formation. Furthermore, cancer research studies revealed that cannabinoids have the ability to induce killing of cancer cells in the cancers of thyroid, skin, pancreas, and lung. In particular, when the division of prostate cancer cells was experimentally activated, synthetic cannabinoids caused a marked inhibition of their proliferation through targeting CB1 and CB2.
Synthetic cannabinoids as anti-cancer agents
The administration of the synthetic cannabinoid JWH-133 has been resulting in a remarkable reduction of the ability of brain cancer cells to survive in rats. Such effects were mainly demonstrated due to accumulation of certain molecules (ceramide) that would eventually initiate tumor cell death. Additionally, JWH-133 caused a significant reduction of skin tumor volumes either by facilitating their programmed death in the body or diminishing their blood supply through the prevention of new blood vessel formation. WIN 55,212-2, another synthetic cannabinoid, exerts its effect against the cancers of brain, spinal cord, skin, and prostate, where the anti-tumor action is augmented with the increase of the administered dose.
Conflicting actions of the phyto- and endo-cannabinoids
Cannabinoid treatment of cancer has been also demonstrated by the naturally-occurring or plant-derived cannabinoids. Interestingly, anandamide and cannabidiol led to cessation of the proliferation of breast cancer cells that lack estrogen receptors on their surfaces. On the other hand, low doses of THC resulted in increasing tumor size in lung and brain cancers, while its administration in high doses inhibited the division of breast tumor cells. The former findings were further supported by the results of the clinical trials on patients with brain and spinal cord tumors.
Cannabinoid treatment for the cancer of prostate, brain, and breast has been effectively achieved in most of the in vivo and in vitro studies by the synthetic compounds. However, the converse effects of low THC doses on tumor progression might call for more extensive clinical trials to assess the effects of various cannabinoids for cancer treatment.