The therapeutic potential of cannabis and cannabinoids

Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2012 Jul;109(29-30):495-501. doi: 10.3238/arztebl.2012.0495. Epub 2012 Jul 23.


Background: Cannabis-based medications have been a topic of intense study since the endogenous cannabinoid system was discovered two decades ago. In 2011, for the first time, a cannabis extract was approved for clinical use in Germany.

Methods: Selective literature review.

Results: Cannabis-based medications exert their effects mainly through the activation of cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2). More than 100 controlled clinical trials of cannabinoids or whole-plant preparations for various indications have been conducted since 1975. The findings of these trials have led to the approval of cannabis-based medicines (dronabinol, nabilone, and a cannabis extract [THC:CBD=1:1]) in several countries. In Germany, a cannabis extract was approved in 2011 for the treatment of moderate to severe refractory spasticity in multiple sclerosis. It is commonly used off label for the treatment of anorexia, nausea, and neuropathic pain. Patients can also apply for government permission to buy medicinal cannabis flowers for self-treatment under medical supervision. The most common side effects of cannabinoids are tiredness and dizziness (in more than 10% of patients), psychological effects, and dry mouth. Tolerance to these side effects nearly always develops within a short time. Withdrawal symptoms are hardly ever a problem in the therapeutic setting.

Conclusion: There is now clear evidence that cannabinoids are useful for the treatment of various medical conditions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anorexia / drug therapy*
  • Cannabinoids / adverse effects
  • Cannabinoids / therapeutic use*
  • Cannabis / chemistry*
  • Chronic Pain / drug therapy*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Humans
  • Muscle Spasticity / drug therapy*
  • Nausea / drug therapy*
  • Vomiting / drug therapy*


  • Cannabinoids