Therapeutic Use of Cannabinoids in Critically Ill Patients: A Survey of Intensive Care Physicians in Germany

Cannabis Cannabinoid Res. 2023 Sep 4. doi: 10.1089/can.2023.0057. Online ahead of print.


Background: In the course of the legalization of cannabis for therapeutic purposes in Germany, there has been growing interest in the medical use of cannabinoids. To date, the therapeutic potential of cannabinoids for the treatment of critically ill patients has not been explored. Objectives: This study aims to understand better whether and how frequently cannabinoids have been administered to critically ill patients in recent years. Study Design: Initially, a survey was conducted among physicians working in intensive care units (ICUs) at the Hannover Medical School. Subsequently, 653 physicians working in ICUs throughout Germany were surveyed. The frequency and regimen of cannabinoid therapy initiated by the participating physicians in the last 2 years at the time of the survey were characterized. Results: Eight out of 9 physicians at Hannover Medical School and 59 out of 653 physicians in ICUs in Germany participated. At Hannover Medical School, 6 out of 8 physicians and in ICUs in Germany, 16 out of 59 physicians had used cannabinoids in some patients (mainly 9-10) during the 2-year period studied, with dronabinol in doses between 1 and 20 mg being their cannabinoid of choice. Metabolic and psychological distress and medication savings, followed by pain and nausea/vomiting, were the most frequently cited indications for cannabinoid therapy. No relevant safety issues arrived. Lack of personal experience, limited evidence, and gaps in knowledge were the most commonly cited reservations about cannabinoid use. Conclusions: During a 2-year period, dronabinol is used in a few critically ill patients in ICUs. The main indications are to reduce metabolic and psychological distress and to save medication. The majority of participating physicians indicated that the use of cannabinoids in the context of critical care medicine needs further exploration.

Keywords: cannabinoids; critically ill; intensive care medicine; survey.