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I have chronic pain. Will cannabis help me manage my pain?

Cannabis may help to treat chronic pain. It may work better for neuropathic pain than for other kinds of chronic pain.

What is the evidence?

Researchers compared patients with chronic pain who used cannabis with patients who continued with their regular treatment program (and didn’t take cannabis). They measured patients’ pain scores and found that:

  • Patients who used cannabis had lower pain scores than patients who did not use cannabis
  • This was true for patients with chronic cancer pain and patients with chronic non-cancer pain
  • Patients with neuropathic pain had more pain relief than patients with other kinds of pain
  • The most common side effects from cannabis were dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, and vomiting

What kind of study was this?

This was a systematic review. A systematic review summarises all available studies on a health care intervention to provide high quality evidence on the effectiveness of that health care intervention.

Who participated in the study? This review included 43 studies (randomized trials) involving 2437 people who had chronic pain of any kind (both cancer and non-cancer) lasting for more than 3 months.

How was the study done? The reviewers looked at studies that compared cannabis with placebo or an active drug.

Intervention: Cannabis


Comparison: Placebo or active comparator

Cannabis interventions: Any kind of cannabis, including synthetic cannabis, by any route of administration.

Placebo: A pill/needle/lotion containing an inactive substance that has no effect on the outcome. Sometimes, it is referred to as a “sugar pill.” The placebo did not have to be identical to the cannabis.

Active comparator: weak opioids or naproxen

Why was this research done?

Some studies had shown that cannabis might be effective for treating chronic pain. There is a lot of interest in society about whether cannabis can help treat pain and if we should use it. The researchers wanted to look at all the most recent evidence to see whether cannabis is effective for treating chronic pain.

This Evidence Summary is based on the following article:

Aviram J, Samuelly-Leichtag G. Efficacy of Cannabis-Based Medicines for Pain Management: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Pain Physician. 2017 Sep;20(6):E755-E796. PubMed

Published: Thursday, July 26, 2018

Please note that the information contained herein is not to be interpreted as an alternative to medical advice from a professional healthcare provider. If you have any questions about any medical matter, you should consult your professional healthcare providers, and should never delay seeking medical advice, disregard medical advice or discontinue medication based on information provided here.