Cannabinoids are a group of chemicals that bind to receptors in the human body and, in turn, modulate the endocannabinoid system (ECS). They can be endogenously produced, synthetic, or derived from the plant Cannabis sativa L
. Research over the past several decades has shown that the ECS is a cellular communication network essential to maintain multiple biological functions and the homeostasis of the body. Indeed, cannabinoids have been shown to influence a wide variety of biological effects, including memory, pain, reproduction, bone remodeling or immunity, to name a few. Unsurprisingly, given these broad physiological effects, alterations of the ECS have been found in different diseases, including cancer. In recent years, the medical use of cannabis has been approved in different countries for a variety of human conditions. However, the use of these compounds, specifically as anticancer agents, remains controversial. Studies have shown that cannabinoids do have anticancer activity in different tumor types such as breast cancer, melanoma, lymphoma and adult brain cancer. Specifically, phytocannabinoids Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) has been shown to induce apoptosis and inhibit proliferation of adult cancer cells, as well as modulate angiogenesis and metastasis. Despite increasing evidence that cannabinoids elicit antitumor effects in adult cancers, there is minimal data available on their effects in children or in pediatric cancers despite public and clinical demand for information. Here we describe a comprehensive and critical review of what is known about the effects of cannabinoids on pediatric cancers, highlight current gaps in knowledge and identify the critical issues that need addressing before considering these promising but controversial drugs for use in pediatric oncology.
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