Updated: Apr 13
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A June 2022 research study entitled "Anti-cancer Potential of Cannabis Terpenes in a Taxol-resistant Model of Breast Cancer" that was published in the Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology explored the potential ability of the terpenes produced by cannabis and hemp in the treatment of breast cancer.
Terpenes are the aromatic chemicals responsible for the sometimes pungent aroma of cannabis. These molecules also deliver flavor and are largely responsible for the fragrance profiles most associated with particular cultivars ("strains") of cannabis and hemp.
Breast Cancer Needs New Therapies
The study's authors reported that many breast cancer patients develop resistance to chemotherapy and other conventional treatments and that, therefore, "the exploration of novel therapeutic options is warranted." The research noted that "isolated compounds found in cannabis have previously been shown to exhibit anti-cancer effects, but little is known about their effects in resistant breast cancer."
The study observed that the terpenes nerolidol and beta-caryophyllene (BCP) "produced the greatest cytotoxic effects."
The study investigated "the effects of terpenes found in cannabis" in a "chemotherapy-resistant model of breast cancer." It analyzed five terpenes found in cannabis and whether they produce anti-cancer efficacy. The research also examined the influence of cannabinoids and flavonoids (also produced by hemp and cannabis) and whether "the effects [of the terpenes] were improved upon co-treatment with cannabinoids and flavonoids."
Breast Cancer Study Results
The study observed that the terpenes nerolidol and beta-caryophyllene (BCP) "produced the greatest cytotoxic effects." It found that the terpenes achieved this positive outcome via a variety of biochemical mechanisms, including apoptosis, a genetically programmed "suicide" in which cancer cells basically kill themselves upon certain external influences (such as from cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes).
The study also found that treatment with terpenes resulted in a reduction in the invasion of healthy cells by cancerous cells.
Flavonoids Boost Terpene Anti-Cancer Efficacy
The study found that combinations of flavonoids and terpenes increased anti-cancer effects. "Combinations with the flavonoid kaempferol potentiated the cytotoxic [anti-cancer] effects of [the terpenes] ocimene, terpinolene, and β-myrcene," it reported.
"The study found that combinations of flavonoids and terpenes increased anti-cancer effects."
The scientists learned that a combination of the terpene nerolidol and the cannabinoids delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or cannabidiol (CBD) "produced variable responses" that were determined in large part by dose.
Breast Cancer Study Conclusions
The breast cancer study concluded that many of the terpenes produced by cannabis resulted in anti-cancer efficacy in breast cancer cells (the study did not involve human subjects). "Our results indicate that cannabis terpenes, alone or combined with cannabinoids and flavonoids, produced anti-cancer effects in chemotherapy-resistant breast cancer cell lines," summarized the study.
"Cannabis terpenes, alone or combined with cannabinoids and flavonoids, produced anti-cancer effects."
Interestingly, the breast cancer study noted different outcomes of terpenes alone or in combination with sibling molecules like cannabinoids and flavonoids. "This study is a first step in the identification of compounds that could have therapeutic potential in the treatment of resistant breast cancer."
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