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Study: Cannabis Inhibits Breast Cancer

Updated: Jul 30, 2023

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Study: Cannabis Inhibits Breast Cancer. A November 2018 research study conducted in South Africa entitled "Comparative Inhibition of Breast Cancer Cell Growth, Invasion, and Angiogenesis by Cannabis Sourced from 16 Geographic Locations" that was published in the South African Journal of Botany investigated the potential anti-cancer efficacy of cannabis treatment, specifically efficacy for breast cancer.

A woman holds a small pink ribbon in front of a plate of cupcakes featuring pink icing and red cancer ribbons

The study reported that the "anticancer activity of cannabis is well-documented in scientific literature" and that the cannabinoids produced by hemp and cannabis, including cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) "not only inhibit [cancer] cell proliferation [growth], but also arrest the growth of differentiated [cancer] cells."


Study: Cannabis Inhibits Breast Cancer

The research noted that cannabis has demonstrated multiple avenues of relief for cancer patients, including killing cancer cells and the ability to "alleviate nausea and vomiting induced by chemotherapy." The scientists added that "cannabinoids are also said to be effective in pain management."


The study noted that breast cancer, one of more than 100 types of the deadly disease, "is one of the most common human malignancies and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women."


"Breast cancer is one of the most common human malignancies and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women."

In Breast Cancer, Cannabis Cultivars "Very Important"

The study's authors noted the importance of "which particular strain or cultivar of the plant is being used." Because different cultivars produce highly variable cannabinoid and terpene profiles (along with dozens of other types of compounds), the exact cultivar being employed in research or by a medical professional in the actual treatment of a cancer patient is extremely important and, to a large extent, determines the outcome of the therapy.


The researchers noted that, in South Africa, further problems are introduced by the "apparent misidentification and confusion between 'hemp' and 'dagga,' as C. sativa L. in southern Africa is known."

A vegetative stage growing hemp plant on a legal farm in Indiana, U.S.A.

Cannabis for Breast Cancer Study Design

The study analyzed "16 authenticated samples [of cannabis] collected from various parts of the world, including [the] Southern part of Africa." These samples involved seven cultivars of hemp and nine of "dagga," or cannabis/marijuana.


The study documented not only the cannabinoid and terpene contents of the samples, but also "total flavonoid content."


Cannabis for Breast Cancer Study Results

The study reported a high amount of variance of the flavonoids present in the hemp and cannabis samples. Some cultivars featured nearly double the flavonoid volume as the average among all samples. It also identified that the geographical location from which a cultivar was obtained resulted in a different flavonoid profile.


It also found that the cannabinoid profiles of the samples "may be indicative of the country of origin" and "environmental factors."

Female holding a smoldering marijuana joint in her left hand, with smoke wafting away in an artsy capture

Flavonoids & Terpenes for Breast Cancer

The study reported that the anticancer effects delivered by cannabis and hemp "could be correlated to the presence of various biologically active secondary plant compounds, including flavonoids" and that flavonoids produce "profound synergistic effects" and can also act alone or in tandem with terpenes and cannabinoids.


The anticancer effects delivered by cannabis and hemp "could be correlated to the presence of various biologically active secondary plant compounds, including flavonoids."

Flavonoids have the evolutionary function of adding pigment to the plant to both attract pollinators and propagators (including human cultivators) and detract predators and pests.


Like terpenes, flavonoids are produced by thousands of plant species other than cannabis in nature. The study reported that flavonoids are found in the "flowers, leaves, and stems" of the cannabis plant, but that cannabinoids are produced only in the flowers (and, more specifically, the nearly microscopic trichome glands of the flowers).

A microscopic image of a cancer cell

Cannabis Cannabinoids Inhibit Cancer Growth

The study reported that cannabinoids inhibit angiogenesis, which is the formation of new blood vessels from existing blood vessels. This is a mechanism by which cancerous tumors grow and spread. "Angiogenesis inhibition is [the] most emerging target to inhibit cancer cells and cannabinoids [have been] found effective to inhibit angiogenesis in experimental models." The study reported that sustained angiogenesis is "a hallmark of cancer" and is "essential in tumor growth, invasion, and metastasis in all [cancer] cell types."


The CB1 receptor of the endocannabinoid system, in particular, "is considered [to be a] promising target [for future research] about "breast cancer cell growth and invasion."

The scientists reported that breast cancer cells feature CB1 and CB2 cellular receptors. These specialized receptors are part of the human endocannabinoid system (ECS) and bind with both endocannabinoids (such as 2-AG and anandamide) and phytocannabinoids such as CBD and THC. They noted that the CB1 receptor, in particular, "is considered [to be a] promising target [for future research] about "breast cancer cell growth and invasion."

Image courtesy Darryl Glubczynski
Image courtesy Darryl Glubczynski

Cannabis for Breast Cancer Study Conclusions

The study's authors concluded that various cannabis and hemp cultivars among those it tested demonstrated "anti-angiogenic activity" and were part of various biochemical mechanisms by which cancer growth was prevented or slowed. Based on this, the study reported that therapies involving the flavonoids, terpenes, and cannabinoids produced by hemp and cannabis may produce positive outcomes for breast cancer patients.


"Various cannabis and hemp cultivars tested demonstrated 'anti-angiogenic activity' and were part of biochemical mechanisms by which cancer growth was prevented or slowed."

The scientists stressed the need for further studies to "determine and quantify" the particular compounds from hemp and cannabis that may deliver the best efficacy of cancer patients and, in particular, those suffering breast cancer. They also expressed their desire that their research results might "help influence the policies for government [and] merit further study."

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