Cannabis and its derivatives: review of medical use

J Am Board Fam Med. 2011 Jul-Aug;24(4):452-62. doi: 10.3122/jabfm.2011.04.100280.


Background: Use of cannabis is often an under-reported activity in our society. Despite legal restriction, cannabis is often used to relieve chronic and neuropathic pain, and it carries psychotropic and physical adverse effects with a propensity for addiction. This article aims to update the current knowledge and evidence of using cannabis and its derivatives with a view to the sociolegal context and perspectives for future research.

Methods: Cannabis use can be traced back to ancient cultures and still continues in our present society despite legal curtailment. The active ingredient, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol, accounts for both the physical and psychotropic effects of cannabis. Though clinical trials demonstrate benefits in alleviating chronic and neuropathic pain, there is also significant potential physical and psychotropic side-effects of cannabis. Recent laboratory data highlight synergistic interactions between cannabinoid and opioid receptors, with potential reduction of drug-seeking behavior and opiate sparing effects. Legal rulings also have changed in certain American states, which may lead to wider use of cannabis among eligible persons.

Conclusions: Family physicians need to be cognizant of such changing landscapes with a practical knowledge on the pros and cons of medical marijuana, the legal implications of its use, and possible developments in the future.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / adverse effects
  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic / therapeutic use*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use
  • Cannabinoids / adverse effects
  • Cannabinoids / therapeutic use*
  • Cannabis* / adverse effects
  • Drug Synergism
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Marijuana Abuse
  • Marijuana Smoking / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Neuralgia / drug therapy
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Phytotherapy* / adverse effects
  • United States


  • Analgesics, Non-Narcotic
  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Cannabinoids
  • Illicit Drugs