Cancer and Metastasis Reviews

, Volume 30, Issue 3–4, pp 599–612 | Cite as

Cannabinoids, endocannabinoids, and cancer

  • Daniel J. Hermanson
  • Lawrence J. MarnettEmail author


The endocannabinoid system consists of an array of endogenously produced bioactive lipids that activate cannabinoid receptors. Although the primary focus of endocannabinoid biology has been on neurological and psychiatric effects, recent work has revealed several important interactions between the endocannabinoid system and cancer. Several different types of cancer have abnormal regulation of the endocannabinoid system that contributes to cancer progression and correlates to clinical outcomes. Modulation of the endocannabinoid system by pharmacological agents in various cancer types reveals that it can mediate antiproliferative and apoptotic effects by both cannabinoid receptor-dependent and -independent pathways. Selective agonists and antagonists of the cannabinoid receptors, inhibitors of endocannabinoid hydrolysis, and cannabinoid analogs have been utilized to probe the pathways involved in the effects of the endocannabinoid system on cancer cell apoptosis, proliferation, migration, adhesion, and invasion. The antiproliferative and apoptotic effects produced by some of these pharmacological probes reveal that the endocannabinoid system is a promising new target for the development of novel chemotherapeutics to treat cancer.


Cancer Arachidonic acid Phosphatidylcholine Phosphatidylethanolamine Diacylglycerol Anandamide 2-arachidonoylglycerol Endocannabinoids CB1 CB2 









Arachidonic acid






N-acyl transferase




NAPE-specific phospholipase D






Phospholipase C-β


Diacylglycerol lipase


Monoacylglycerol lipase


Fatty acid amide hydrolase






Cytochromes P450


Transient receptor potential vanilloid type 1






Prostaglandin ethanolamides


Glycerol prostaglandins




Epidermal growth factor receptor


Transforming growth factor α




Non-small cell lung cancer


Hypoxia-inducible factor 1α


Inhibitor of differentiation-3


Angiopoietin receptor tyrosine kinase with immunoglobulin-like and epidermal growth factor-like domains 1


Matrix metalloproteinase




Placental growth factor


Protein kinase B




RhoA/Rho-associated coiled coil-containing kinase


Cell adhesion molecules of the immunoglobulin superfamily


Extracellular matrix


Focal adhesion kinase


FAK-related nonkinase


Interleukin 1


Extracellular regulating kinases 1 and 2



Work in the Marnett Laboratory is supported by research grants from the National Institutes of Health (CA89450, GM15431, and DA031572) and the National Foundation for Cancer Research.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.A.B. Hancock Jr. Memorial Laboratory for Cancer Research, Departments of Biochemistry, Chemistry, and Pharmacology, Vanderbilt Institute of Chemical Biology, Center in Molecular Toxicology, Vanderbilt Ingram Comprehensive Cancer CenterVanderbilt University School of MedicineNashvilleUSA

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