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Study: Medical Cannabis for Chronic Pain

Updated: Aug 26, 2023

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Cannabis for Chronic Pain. A September 2021 research study entitled "Medical Cannabis or Cannabinoids for Chronic Non-cancer and Cancer Related Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials" that was published in the journal BMJ had the goal of investigating "the benefits and harms of medical cannabis and cannabinoids for chronic pain."

Young male in pain who is holding hand to head with weary look on his face
Does cannabis treat pain?

The study reported that chronic pain affects about one in five people in North America, Europe, and other developing countries and that it can result in "physical and emotional impairment, disability, reduced quality of life, and increased healthcare costs." It explained that scientific and medical interest in medical cannabis as a viable therapy has increased as a result of the "shift away from long-term opioid therapy for chronic pain."


Cannabis for Chronic Pain Study

The design of the research was that of a literature review that analyzed previous clinical trials involving human study participants to evaluate "the effectiveness and safety of medical cannabis and cannabinoids for chronic pain."


"The pain studies reviewed covered a number of cannabis- or hemp-derived cannabinoids, including CBD, CBDV, THC, and a combination of CBD and THC."

The scientists used a strict inclusion methodology that considered 11,952 studies to refine this large pool of research down to fewer than 50 studies. "We included 32 unique trials with 5,174 patients," the median age of which was 53, with 55 percent females. Of the prior studies reviewed, 28 involved patients with chronic non-cancer pain and four for cancer-related pain. Non-cancer pain included neuropathic, that related to spasticity, nociplastic pain, nociceptive pain, and medication overuse headaches.


Among all study participants, the mean baseline pain score was 6.1 VAS (out of 10). The pain studies reviewed covered a number of cannabis- or hemp-derived cannabinoids, including CBD, CBDV, THC, and a combination of CBD and THC.

Woman with headache and hands to forehead with eyes closed and grimace expression
Does marijuana really help pain?

Cannabis for Chronic Pain Study Results

The literature review study revealed a long list of findings in its data. It learned that "medical cannabis taken orally...results in a significant improvement in sleep quality." The study also reported that "non-inhaled medical cannabis or cannabinoids results in a small...increase in the proportion of patients living with chronic cancer and non-cancer pain who experience an important improvement in pain relief, physical functioning, and sleep quality."


The study reported that "medical cannabis taken orally...results in a significant improvement in sleep quality."

The researchers noted that some study participants experienced adverse side effects, including dizziness, mild cognitive impairment, vomiting, drowsiness, impaired attention, and nausea. The study analysis also revealed that pain patients who orally consumed medical cannabis did not experience impairment of emotional functioning, role functioning, or social skills.


The study reported that its results showed that most research on the topic of marijuana for pain "explored oral formulations of tetrahydrocannabinol [THC] alone or in combination with cannabidiol [CBD] among adult patients living with chronic pain."

CBD tincture from Leafwize Naturals in California.
Study: Medical cannabis relieved pain

Cannabis for Chronic Pain Study Conclusions

The study's authors concluded that their detailed analysis of randomized controlled study trials involving human participants revealed a "small increase in the proportion of people living with chronic pain (cancer and non-cancer) who experience an important improvement in pain relief, physical functioning, and sleep quality with non-inhaled medical cannabis or cannabinoids when compared with placebo."


"The study noted a small decrease in chronic pain (cancer and non-cancer) and improvements in physical functioning and sleep quality with non-inhaled medical cannabis or cannabinoids."

"Our findings may or may not apply to inhaled forms of medical cannabis, veterans, or individuals with substance use disorder or other mental illness," reported the study.

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