Researchers have tested the effects of synthetic cannabinoid compounds on colon cancer cells in an experiment in test tubes. While the compounds most commonly associated with cannabis—THC and CBD—showed little to no effect, 10 other compounds were effective at inhibiting cancer cell growth.
Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers diagnosed in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute, with an estimated 140,250 newly diagnosed cases and 50,630 deaths in 2018. While medical cannabis has largely been used in recent years for palliative care, the researchers say some previous studies suggested that certain cannabinoid compounds may have the potential to inhibit or prevent the growth of tumors.
To explore how effective cannabinoids were at reducing the viability of colon cancer cells specifically, the researchers tested how 370 different synthetic cannabinoid compounds affected seven types of human colon cancer cells.
The researchers incubated the cancer cells in a lab for eight hours before treating them with the cannabinoid compounds for 48 hours. Any compounds that showed signs of reducing the viability of one kind of cancer cell was then used to treat all seven kinds of cells.
After further screening and analysis, the researchers identified 10 compounds that inhibited the growth of almost all seven types of colon cancer types they tested. But while the researchers were able to identify these compounds, they are still unsure about how exactly the compounds worked to reduce the viability of the cancer cells.
Researchers say that because the other compounds did not seem to be working through traditional cannabinoid signaling pathways, future research will focus on better understanding how the compounds interact with cancer cells and whether researchers can make the compounds more potent and effective.