Extra Virgin Olive Oil & Cannabis: A Novel Synergy?

One of the questions we are most commonly asked by dispensary buyers of our products is – what makes your tinctures different? We know there are many options on the market, including some that also have olive oil. Our extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is grown from a Tuscan varietal in Marin County and Sonoma County and we oversee the processing of the oil, a cold extraction process that produces the highest quality unfiltered, unprocessed oil.

Olive oil is an important part of what scientists refer to as the “Mediterranean” diet. The Mediterranean diet has been extensively studied for its ability to significantly decrease the risk of several chronic diseases, including many types of cancer.

There is mounting evidence of the protective role of unrefined, cold pressed EVOO as an anti-cancer functional food based on numerous population, animal and cancer cell line studies.  Researchers are also now beginning to understand some novel mechanisms behind EVOO’s anti-cancer action besides its anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. For example, in colon cancer cells, EVOO was shown to increase the expression of the type 1 cannabinoid receptor (CB1/CNR1) gene (1), which is a major element of the endocannabinoid system (ECS).  The ECS–constituted by the endocannabinoids, their receptors such as CB1 and CB2 and the proteins involved in the synthesis, transport and degradation of endocannabinoids – exerts numerous regulatory functions in our bodies.  Several studies have documented a dysregulation of the ECS in various disease conditions, including cancer.

Getting back to EVOO and colon cancer, in most human colon cancer cells, CB1 is “silenced” by the cancer cells through DNA methylation, making them resistant to apoptosis (cell death).   DNA methylation is one of several ways that normal cells and cancer cells can repress the function of a gene.  The researchers found that particular polyphenols in the EVOO were able to reduce DNA methylation and reactivate CB1, inhibiting the growth and proliferation of the colorectal cancer cells.

Studies have shown that in some cell types, CB1 can also be activated by cannabinoids that are generated naturally inside our bodies called “endocannabinoids” or that are introduced into our bodies such as THC or related synthetic compounds. However, researchers believe that increased levels of cannabinoids alone might not be sufficient to inhibit colorectal tumor growth because of the loss of CB1 in most of these cancers.  It may be that an initial treatment with EVOO polyphenols (to boost CB1 levels) followed by administration of a CB1 agonist (such as THC or a synthetic cannabinoid) would achieve optimal stimulation of apoptosis (death) of colorectal cancer cells.

A new study has provided further insights into the anti-cancer role of EVOO, showing that it contains a natural inhibitor of DNA methyltransferases (DNMTs) and mTOR.  DNMTs are enzymes needed for DNA methylation to silence genes as mentioned above.

The mTOR signaling pathway is used by cancer cells to help them proliferate and survive. Researchers showed in this study that by inhibiting mTOR and DNMTs, EVOO was able to specifically and potently suppress breast cancer stem cells (2). These studies highlight the importance of high quality EVOO in eliciting anti-cancer responses in relation to colorectal, breast and other some other forms of cancer.

Studies will be needed to determine whether EVOO can promote the tumor killing effects of THC by providing more of its ligand, CB1, as well as whether there are other unknown synergistic anti-cancer actions of EVOO and cannabinoids.

On another note, it’s also interesting that CB1 down-regulation has been correlated with several neurodegenerative diseases including Huntington’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis.  

(1) J Nutr Biochem. 2015 Mar;26(3):250-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2014.10.013. Epub 2014 Dec 3.  PMID: 25533906

(2) Carcinogenesis. 2018 Feb 14. doi: 10.1093/carcin/bgy023. [Epub ahead of print]  PMID: 29452350

Nicole Skibola