Cannabis for the Treatment of Chronic Pain in the Era of an Opioid Epidemic: A Symposium-Based Review of Sociomedical Science

Pain Med. 2019 Nov 1;20(11):2311-2323. doi: 10.1093/pm/pnx143.


Objective: This manuscript reviews medical literature published pertaining to the management of chronic pain with medical marijuana therapy (MMJ), with an emphasis on the social, medical, and legal aspects of therapy.

Design: Narrative review of peer-reviewed literature.

Methods: The 3rd Symposium on Controlled Substances and Their Alternatives for the Treatment of Pain was held in Boston on February 27, 2016, with a focus on MMJ for the treatment of chronic pain. Invited speakers had diverse backgrounds, including pain management, addiction psychiatry, neurology, and legal authorities. The purpose of this conference and this subsequent narrative review is to provide a medical, legal, and logistical framework for physicians and other health care providers to refer to when considering the initiation of medical marijuana therapy.

Results: The invited speakers each covered a unique aspect of MMJ therapy for the treatment of chronic pain. These presentations highlighted the current data for and against the use of MMJ as a pain therapy. Optimal patient selection and screening, in addition to policy developments, were discussed.

Conclusions: Increasing interest in MMJ for chronic pain underscores a need for primary care and pain physicians to better understand the indications and evidence for its use free from cultural bias. Given a lack of full conclusive clinical utility, continued research is needed to better understand how to best utilize MMJ therapy for the treatment of chronic pain. Policy initiatives, such as enumerated indications, should follow medical science in order to prevent another abused substance epidemic.

Keywords: Alternative Therapies; Cannabis; Chronic Pain; Narcotics; Policy.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics / therapeutic use*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Cannabis*
  • Chronic Pain / drug therapy*
  • Humans
  • Medical Marijuana / therapeutic use*
  • Pain Management / methods


  • Analgesics
  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Medical Marijuana