Medical Research

Do The Minor Cannabinoids Affect Cancer?

Written by Loren Devito, PhD

If we played a word association game, it’s pretty likely that THC and CBD would come up as associations for the word cannabis. These two cannabinoids have taken the main stage in the media, first starting with THC and, more recently, CBD. While these two powerful compounds drive important effects of the plant, they are not alone; in fact, there are many different types of cannabinoids.

Due to their current under-the-radar status, compounds other than THC and CBD are often referred to as the “minor cannabinoids.” These include cannabigerol (CBG), cannabinol (CBN), cannabichromene (CBC), tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), and cannabidiolic acid (CBDA).1

That said, don’t let the “minor” designation fool you: in addition to working with CBD and THC to provide comprehensive effects on the body and brain—known as the “entourage effect”—there is pre-clinical evidence suggesting that they may possess significant medicinal benefits in their own right.2

These compounds have been shown to affect numerous systems in the body, including pain, mood, and sleep.2 Additionally, studies have indicated that certain cannabinoids may even have the potential to fight cancer.

While additional research is required to better understand the mechanisms underlying these results, below is a brief summary of evidence collected on key cannabinoids that appear to be involved in certain types of cancer.

Breast Cancer

  • A study using human cell lines found that CBN was effective in inhibiting breast cancer cell growth3
  • An analysis of human cancer cells revealed that CBDA reduced expression of genes associated with breast cancer4
  • CBG and CBC were both found to be potent inhibitors of cancer growth in several breast cancer tumor cell lines (however, this study did not find CBDA to be effective, in contrast with the above results)5

Soft Tissue Tumors

  • Epithelioid sarcoma is a rare type of cancer that affects soft tissues in the hands or feet. A study found that CBG possesses anti-tumor properties, as evaluated in human oral epitheloid carcinoma cell lines6

Colon Cancer

  • In both cell cancer lines and in pre-clinical models, CBG was shown to increase cancer cell death, reduce cancer cell growth, and inhibit tumor growth7

Prostate Cancer

  • A study that evaluated the effects of several minor cannabinoids identified CBC and CBG as potent inhibitors of cell growth in a prostate cancer cell line8

Clearly, these findings are quite promising (especially for CBG) and warrant further study and verification in additional experiments. Indeed, it will be interesting to see the individual contributions of these “minor” compounds, as companies begin isolating and producing them for medical and recreational use.


  1. Andre, C.M., Hausman, J., Guerriero, G., “Cannabis Sativa: The Plant of the Thousand and One Molecules”, Front Plant Sci, 2016, vol.7, no.19, pg. 1-17.
  2. Russo, E.B. “Taming THC: Potential Cannabis Synergy And Phytocannabinoid-terpenoid Entourage Effects.” Br Pharmacol. vol.163, no.7, 2011, pp. 1344-1364.
  3. McAllister, S.D., et al. “Cannabidiol As A Novel Inhibitor of Id-1 Gene Expression In Aggressive Breast Cancer Cells.” Mol Cancer Ther. vol.6, no.11, 2007, pp. 2921-2927.
  4. Takeda, S., et al. “Down-regulation of Cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) By Cannabidiolic Acid In Human Breast Cancer Cells.” J Toxicol Sci. vol.39, no.5, 2014, pp. 711-716.
  5. Ligresti, A., et al., “Antitumor Activity of Plant Cannabinoids with Emphasis on the Effect of Cannabidiol on Human Breast Carcinoma”, Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, vol.318, no.3, 2006, pp.1375-1387.
  6. Baek, S.H., et al. “Boron Trifluoride Etherate on Silica-A Modified Lewis Acid Reagent (VII). Antitumor Activity of Cannabigerol Against Human Oral Epitheloid Carcinoma Cells.” Arch Pharm Res. vol.21, no.3, 1998, pp. 353-356.
  7. Borrelli, F., et al. “Colon Carcinogenesis Is Inhibited by the TRPM8 Antagonist Cannabigerol, A Cannabis-derived Non-psychotropic Cannabinoid.” Carcinogenesis, vol.35, 2014, pp. 2787-2797.
  8. De Petrocellis, L., et al. “Non-THC Cannabinoids Inhibit Prostate Carcinoma Growth In Vitro and In Vivo: Pro-apoptotic Effects and Underlying Mechanisms.” Br J Pharmacol. vol.168, no.1, 2013, pp. 79-102.

Photo credit: Breast Cancer Care

About the author

Loren Devito, PhD

Loren DeVito, PhD is a neuroscientist and science writer with expertise in cannabis science and medicine. She is committed to communicating evidence-based information about cannabis and its healing properties. Learn more about her work at