There has been a surge in interest in medicinal cannabis in Canada. We conducted a questionnaire survey to determine the current prevalence of medicinal cannabis use among patients with chronic non-cancer pain, to estimate the dose size and frequency of cannabis use, and to describe the main symptoms for which relief was being sought. Over a 6-week period in mid-2001, 209 chronic non-cancer pain patients were recruited in an anonymous cross-sectional survey. Seventy-two (35%) subjects reported ever having used cannabis. Thirty-two (15%) subjects reported having used cannabis for pain relief (pain users), and 20 (10%) subjects were currently using cannabis for pain relief. Thirty-eight subjects denied using cannabis for pain relief (recreational users). Compared to never users, pain users were significantly younger (P=0.001) and were more likely to be tobacco users (P=0.0001). The largest group of patients using cannabis had pain caused by trauma and/or surgery (51%), and the site of pain was predominantly neck/upper body and myofascial (68% and 65%, respectively). The median duration of pain was similar in both pain users and recreational users (8 vs. 7 years; P=0.7). There was a wide range of amounts and frequency of cannabis use. Of the 32 subjects who used cannabis for pain, 17 (53%) used four puffs or less at each dosing interval, eight (25%) smoked a whole cannabis cigarette (joint) and four (12%) smoked more than one joint. Seven (22%) of these subjects used cannabis more than once daily, five (16%) used it daily, eight (25%) used it weekly and nine (28%) used it rarely. Pain, sleep and mood were most frequently reported as improving with cannabis use, and 'high' and dry mouth were the most commonly reported side effects. We conclude that cannabis use is prevalent among the chronic non-cancer pain population, for a wide range of symptoms, with considerable variability in the amounts used. Discussions between patients and health care providers concerning cannabis use may facilitate education and follow up, and would allow side effects and potential interactions with other medications to be monitored. Clinical trials of cannabis for chronic non-cancer pain are warranted.