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Does the ECS Target Cancer?

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The ECS & Cancer

In 2019, a group of researchers from Spain and Serbia investigated the potential role of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the treatment of cancer. More specifically, the study investigated the possible involvement of this neural network's infamous CB1 and CB2 receptors that are located throughout every tissue and organ of the human body, including the brain and bones.

A woman examining her breast for cancer.
Does the ECS target cancer?

The ECS, discovered only as recently as the early 1990s by researchers in Israel, produces molecules believed to be involved in physical and mental health called endocannabinoids. The major endocannabinoids are anandamide and 2-AG. However, the active compounds from hemp and cannabis, including phytocannabinoids such as CBD (cannabidiol), CBG (cannabigerol), and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) directly bind with the CB1 and CB2 receptors of the ECS.


The ECS & Cancer: Mimetic Molecules

The ECS & Cancer. Botanically sourced CBD and THC from cannabis are categorized as mimetic molecules because they mirror the functionality of the endocannabinoids 2-AG and anandamide, respectively. Also of note is the fact that the human endocannabinoid system is believed to have evolved after the hemp plant, meaning that it was possibly human biochemistry that was adapting to or leveraging particular phytomolecules, including CBD and THC.


"The human endocannabinoid system is believed to have evolved after the hemp plant, meaning that it was possibly human biochemistry that was adapting to or leveraging particular phytomolecules."

The scientists noted that CB1 receptors in the ECS and their CB2 siblings are members of a "large family of membrane proteins called G protein-coupled receptors (GPCR)."


A chart showing how the ECS works.
The ECS.

The researchers cited the large amount of research that occurred during the decade prior to their study, which they referred to as an "immense data load." The scientists cited the dual role of the ECS in both tumor formation and the inhibition of tumor growth and prevention of metastatic spread.


The ECS & Cancer: ECS Defined

The ECS & Cancer. The study tersely defined the ECS in a manner that can be more easily understood by laypeople: "A complex network of cannabinoid receptors, endocannabinoid ligands, the enzymatic machinery that drives their biosynthesis, degradation, and transport, and all cells and neurological pathways that involve endocannabinoid signaling."


"Marking the vast ECS as a pharmacologically targetable entity brings as many advantages as complications."

The researchers noted that, "although the search for cancer biomarkers usually favors single targets that enable the exploitation of a biochemical or genetic weakness, marking the vast ECS as a pharmacologically targetable entity brings as many advantages as complications."


The detailed study noted that the underlying mechanisms involved in ECS processes, including those bodily processes that the ECS itself regulates, "include practically every pathway important in cancer biology." Thus, the study's authors noted that "it is not a matter of chance that ECS components can exert antiproliferative, proapoptotic, antiangiogenic, anti-metastatic and anti-inflammatory effects [against cancer], depending on tumor type and specific setting."

A woman holds a green cancer ribbon.
More testing needed.

The ECS & Cancer: Anti-Cancer Efficacy

The study reported that the "antiproliferative action of many plant-derived, endogenous, and synthetic cannabinoids has been documented." It reported that a synthetic cannabinoid, WIN-55,212-2, features "a higher affinity for [CB1 and CB2 receptors] than THC, but lower concentrations of THC are needed for the comparable cancer cell death-inducing response."


"The ECS and its components may play a role in future cancer treatment therapies."

The study noted that the endocannabinoid system and "all its components" may play a role in future treatment therapies for a variety of types of cancer. Like other studies, it noted that any of these mechanisms must be "rigorously clinically tested...to exploit its full potential.”


The authors of the study concluded that, "Taking into account all the ethical issues involved in the use of ECS exogenous ligands in anti-cancer therapy and the number of ongoing clinical trials, we are definitely still not there yet, but the route is firm and sprinkled with hope for success."


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1 Kommentar


Blunt About Dat
Blunt About Dat
11. Apr. 2022

The ECS is quite complex but it's worth reading a few times until it sinks in.

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