The role of cannabinoids in pain control: the good, the bad, and the ugly

Minerva Anestesiol. 2018 Aug;84(8):955-969. doi: 10.23736/S0375-9393.18.12287-5. Epub 2018 Jan 16.


Cannabinoids appear to possess many potential medical uses, which may extend to pain control. A narrative review of the literature has found a variety of studies testing botanical and synthetic cannabinoids in different pain syndromes (acute pain, cancer pain, chronic noncancer pain, fibromyalgia pain, migraine, neuropathic pain, visceral pain, and others). Results from these studies are mixed; cannabinoids appear to be most effective in controlling neuropathic pain, allodynia, medication-rebound headache, and chronic noncancer pain, but do not seem to offer any advantage over nonopioid analgesics for acute pain. Cannabinoids seem to work no better than placebo for visceral pain and conferred only modest analgesic effect in cancer pain. Cannabinoids do many good things - they appear to be effective in treating certain types of pain without the issues of tolerance associated with opioids. Negatively, marijuana currently has a very murky legal status all over the world - laws regulating its use are inconsistent and in flux. Thus, both patients and prescribers may be unsure about whether or not it is an appropriate form of pain control. Cannabinoid-based analgesia has been linked to potential memory deficits and cognitive impairment. A great deal more remains to be elucidated about cannabinoids which may emerge to play an important role in the treatment of neuropathic and possibly other painful conditions. There remains a great deal more to learn about the role of cannabinoids in pain management.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cannabinoids / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Neuralgia / drug therapy
  • Pain Management / methods*


  • Cannabinoids