Cannabis has been widely used as a medicinal agent in Eastern medicine with earliest evidence in ancient Chinese practice dating back to 2700 BC. Over time, the use of medical cannabis has been increasingly adopted by Western medicine and is thus a rapidly emerging field that all pain physicians need to be aware of.
Several randomized controlled trials have shown a significant and dose-dependent relationship between neuropathic pain relief and tetrahydrocannabinol – the principal psychoactive component of cannabis. Despite this, barriers exist to use from both the patient perspective (cost, addiction, social stigma, lack of understanding regarding safe administration) and the physician perspective (credibility, criminality, clinical evidence, patient addiction, and policy from the governing medical colleges). This review addresses these barriers and draws attention to key concerns in the Canadian medical system, providing updated treatment approaches to help clinicians work with their patients in achieving adequate pain control, reduced narcotic medication use, and enhanced quality of life.
This review also includes case studies demonstrating the use of medical marijuana by patients with neuropathic low-back pain, neuropathic pain in fibromyalgia, and neuropathic pain in multiple sclerosis. While significant preclinical data have demonstrated the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis for treating pain in osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and cancer, further studies are needed with randomized controlled trials and larger study populations to identify the specific strains and concentrations that will work best with selected cohorts.