Cannabinoids in cancer treatment: Therapeutic potential and legislation

  • Barbara Dariš Department of Cell Biology, Institute of Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Maribor, Maribor, Slovenia
  • Mojca Tancer Verboten Department of Labour Law, Faculty of Law, University of Maribor, Maribor, Slovenia
  • Željko Knez Department of Cell Biology, Institute of Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Maribor, Maribor, Slovenia Laboratory for Separation Processes and Product Design, Faculty of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, University of Maribor, Maribor, Slovenia
  • Polonca Ferk Institute for Biostatistics and Medical Informatics, Faculty of Medicine, University of Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovenia
Keywords: Cannabinoids, antitumor effects, signaling pathways, legislation


The plant Cannabis sativa L. has been used as an herbal remedy for centuries and is the most important source of phytocannabinoids. The endocannabinoid system (ECS) consists of receptors, endogenous ligands (endocannabinoids) and metabolizing enzymes, and plays an important role in different physiological and pathological processes. Phytocannabinoids and synthetic cannabinoids can interact with the components of ECS or other cellular pathways and thus affect the development/progression of diseases, including cancer. In cancer patients, cannabinoids have primarily been used as a part of palliative care to alleviate pain, relieve nausea and stimulate appetite. In addition, numerous cell culture and animal studies showed antitumor effects of cannabinoids in various cancer types. Here we reviewed the literature on anticancer effects of plant-derived and synthetic cannabinoids, to better understand their mechanisms of action and role in cancer treatment. We also reviewed the current legislative updates on the use of cannabinoids for medical and therapeutic purposes, primarily in the EU countries. In vitro and in vivo cancer models show that cannabinoids can effectively modulate tumor growth, however, the antitumor effects appear to be largely dependent on cancer type and drug dose/concentration. Understanding how cannabinoids are able to regulate essential cellular processes involved in tumorigenesis, such as progression through the cell cycle, cell proliferation and cell death, as well as the interactions between cannabinoids and the immune system, are crucial for improving existing and developing new therapeutic approaches for cancer patients. The national legislation of the EU Member States defines the legal boundaries of permissible use of cannabinoids for medical and therapeutic purposes, however, these legislative guidelines may not be aligned with the current scientific knowledge.


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Author Biographies

Barbara Dariš, Department of Cell Biology, Institute of Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Maribor, Maribor, Slovenia
Department of Cell Biology
Mojca Tancer Verboten, Department of Labour Law, Faculty of Law, University of Maribor, Maribor, Slovenia
Department of Labour Law
Željko Knez, Department of Cell Biology, Institute of Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Maribor, Maribor, Slovenia Laboratory for Separation Processes and Product Design, Faculty of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, University of Maribor, Maribor, Slovenia

Department of Cell Biology

Laboratory for Separation Processes and Product Design


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Cannabinoids in cancer treatment: Therapeutic potential and legislation
How to Cite
Dariš B, Tancer Verboten M, Knez Željko, Ferk P. Cannabinoids in cancer treatment: Therapeutic potential and legislation. Bosn J of Basic Med Sci [Internet]. 2019Feb.12 [cited 2020Aug.14];19(1):14-3. Available from: