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Efficacy and adverse effects of medical marijuana for chronic noncancer pain

Authors: Deshpande A, Mailis-Gagnon A, Zoheiry N, Lakha SF.



To determine if medical marijuana provides pain relief for patients with chronic noncancer pain (CNCP) and to determine the therapeutic dose, adverse effects, and specific indications.


In April 2014, MEDLINE and EMBASE searches were conducted using the terms chronic noncancer pain, smoked marijuana orcannabinoids, placebo and pain relief, or side effects or adverse events.


An article was selected for inclusion if it evaluated the effect of smoked or vaporized cannabinoids (nonsynthetic) for CNCP; it was designed as a controlled study involving a comparison group, either concurrently or historically; and it was published in English in a peer-review journal. Outcome data on pain, function, dose, and adverse effects were collected, if available. All articles that were only available in abstract form were excluded. Synthesis A total of 6 randomized controlled trials (N = 226 patients) were included in this review; 5 of them assessed the use of medical marijuana in neuropathic pain as an adjunct to other concomitant analgesics including opioids and anticonvulsants. The 5 trials were considered to be of high quality; however, all of them had challenges with masking. Data could not be pooled owing to heterogeneity in delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol potency by dried weight, differing frequency and duration of treatment, and variability in assessing outcomes. All experimental sessions in the studies were of short duration (maximum of 5 days) and reported statistically significant pain relief with nonserious side effects.


There is evidence for the use of low-dose medical marijuana in refractory neuropathic pain in conjunction with traditional analgesics. However, trials were limited by short duration, variability in dosing and strength of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, and lack of functional outcomes. Although well tolerated in the short term, the long-term effects of psychoactive and neurocognitive effects of medical marijuana remain unknown. Generalizing the use of medical marijuana to all CNCP conditions does not appear to be supported by existing evidence. Clinicians should exercise caution when prescribing medical marijuana for patients, especially in those with nonneuropathic CNCP.

Full article available for free at PubMed.

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