A scoping review on the effect of cannabis on pain intensity in people with spinal cord injury

J Spinal Cord Med. 2022 Sep;45(5):656-667. doi: 10.1080/10790268.2020.1865709. Epub 2021 Jan 19.


Context: This scoping review examines the current research on the effect of cannabis upon pain intensity in spinal cord injury (SCI) pain. Chronic pain is a significant secondary condition following SCI, and traditional treatments (e.g. opioids, NSAIDs) are often criticized for providing inadequate relief. As a result, there is increasing interest in and use of cannabis and cannabinoid-based medications as an alternative means of pain control.

Objective: The purpose of this review was to examine the scientific evidence on the effect of cannabis/cannabinoids upon pain intensity in SCI by mapping the current literature.

Methods: Two hundred and fifty-two studies were identified by searching electronic databases for articles published through February 2020. In addition, reviewers scanned the reference lists of identified articles and examined clinicaltrials.gov for unpublished data in this area. Title, abstract, and full-text reviews were completed by two independent reviewers. Data extraction was performed by a single reviewer and verified by a second reviewer.

Results: Six articles covering five treatment studies were included. Studies yielded mixed findings likely due to large variability in methodology, including lack of standardized dosing paradigms, modes of use, and duration of trial.

Conclusions: The current quality and level of evidence is insufficient to draw reliable conclusions of the efficacy of cannabis upon SCI-related pain itensity. We identify specific limitations of past studies and present guidelines for future research.Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov identifier: Nct01606202..

Keywords: Cannabis; Chronic pain; Medical marijuana; Neuropathic pain; Spinal cord injury.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics / therapeutic use
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use
  • Cannabinoids* / therapeutic use
  • Cannabis*
  • Chronic Pain* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Pain Measurement
  • Spinal Cord Injuries* / complications
  • Spinal Cord Injuries* / drug therapy


  • Analgesics
  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal
  • Cannabinoids

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/Nct01606202