Low doses of widely consumed cannabinoids (cannabidiol and cannabidivarin) cause DNA damage and chromosomal aberrations in human-derived cells.
Cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabidivarin (CBDV) are natural cannabinoids which are consumed in increasing amounts worldwide in cannabis extracts, as they prevent epilepsy, anxiety, and seizures. It was claimed that they may be useful in cancer therapy and have anti-inflammatory properties. Adverse long-term effects of these drugs (induction of cancer and infertility) which are related to damage of the genetic material have not been investigated. Therefore, we studied their DNA-damaging properties in human-derived cell lines under conditions which reflect the exposure of consumers. Both compounds induced DNA damage in single cell gel electrophoresis (SCGE) experiments in a human liver cell line (HepG2) and in buccal-derived cells (TR146) at low levels (≥ 0.2 µM). Results of micronucleus (MN) cytome assays showed that the damage leads to formation of MNi which reflect chromosomal aberrations and leads to nuclear buds and bridges which are a consequence of gene amplifications and dicentric chromosomes. Additional experiments indicate that these effects are caused by oxidative base damage and that liver enzymes (S9) increase the genotoxic activity of both compounds. Our findings show that low concentrations of CBD and CBDV cause damage of the genetic material in human-derived cells. Furthermore, earlier studies showed that they cause chromosomal aberrations and MN in bone marrow of mice. Fixation of damage of the DNA in the form of chromosomal damage is generally considered to be essential in the multistep process of malignancy, therefore the currently available data are indicative for potential carcinogenic properties of the cannabinoids.