The endocannabinoid system is implicated in a variety of physiological and pathological conditions (inflammation, immunomodulation, analgesia, cancer and others). The main active ingredient of cannabis, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC), produces its effects through activation of CB1 and CB2 receptors. CB1 receptors are expressed at high levels in the central nervous system (CNS), whereas CB2 receptors are concentrated predominantly, although not exclusively, in cells of the immune system. Endocannabinoids are endogenous lipid-signalling molecules that are generated in the cell membrane from phospholipid precursors. The two best characterized endocannabinoids identified to date are anandamide (AEA) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG). Here we review the relationship between the endocannabinoid system and anti-tumour actions (inhibition of cell proliferation and migration, induction of apoptosis, reduction of tumour growth) of the cannabinoids in different types of cancer. This review will focus on examining how activation of the endocannabinoid system impacts breast, prostate and bone cancers in both in vitro and in vivo systems. The therapeutic potential of cannabinoids for cancer, as identified in clinical trials, is also discussed. Identification of safe and effective treatments to manage and improve cancer therapy is critical to improve quality of life and reduce unnecessary suffering in cancer patients. In this regard, cannabis-like compounds offer therapeutic potential for the treatment of breast, prostate and bone cancer in patients. Further basic research on anti-cancer properties of cannabinoids as well as clinical trials of cannabinoid therapeutic efficacy in breast, prostate and bone cancer is therefore warranted.
LINKED ARTICLES This article is part of a themed issue on Cannabinoids in Biology and Medicine. To view the other articles in this issue visit http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/bph.2011.163.issue-7