The analgesic potential of cannabinoids

J Opioid Manag. 2009 Nov-Dec;5(6):341-57.


Historically and anecdotally cannabinoids have been used as analgesic agents. In recent years, there has been an escalating interest in developing cannabis-derived medications to treat severe pain. This review provides an overview of the history of cannabis use in medicine, cannabinoid signaling pathways, and current data from preclinical as well as clinical studies on using cannabinoids as potential analgesic agents. Clinical and experimental studies show that cannabis-derived compounds act as antiemetic, appetite modulating, and analgesic agents. However, the efficacy of individual products is variable and dependent upon the route of administration. As opioids are the only therapy for severe pain, analgesic ability of cannabinoids may provide a much-needed alternative to opioids. Moreover, cannabinoids act synergistically with opioids and act as opioid sparing agents, allowing lower doses and fewer side effects from chronic opioid therapy. Thus, rational use of cannabis-based medications deserves serious consideration to alleviate the suffering of patients due to severe pain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics / administration & dosage
  • Analgesics / adverse effects
  • Analgesics / therapeutic use*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use
  • Animals
  • Antiemetics / therapeutic use
  • Appetite Stimulants / therapeutic use
  • Cannabinoids / administration & dosage
  • Cannabinoids / adverse effects
  • Cannabinoids / therapeutic use*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Humans
  • Pain / prevention & control*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid / drug effects
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Analgesics
  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Antiemetics
  • Appetite Stimulants
  • Cannabinoids
  • Receptors, Cannabinoid