Purpose of review: The purpose of this study was to provide the most up-to-date scientific evidence of the potential analgesic effects, or lack thereof, of the marijuana plant (cannabis) or cannabinoids, and of safety or tolerability of their long-term use.
Recent findings: We found that inhaled (smoked or vaporized) cannabis is consistently effective in reducing chronic non-cancer pain. Oral cannabinoids seem to improve some aspects of chronic pain (sleep and general quality of life), or cancer chronic pain, but they do not seem effective in acute postoperative pain, abdominal chronic pain, or rheumatoid pain. The available literature shows that inhaled cannabis seems to be more tolerable and predictable than oral cannabinoids.
Cannabis or cannabinoids are not universally effective for pain. Continued research on cannabis constituents and improving bioavailability for oral cannabinoids is needed. Other aspects of pain management in patients using cannabis require further open discussion: concomitant opioid use, medical vs. recreational cannabis, abuse potential, etc.