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Reassessment of the role of cannabinoids in the management of pain

Beaulieu, Pierrea; Ware, Markb

Current Opinion in Anaesthesiology: October 2007 - Volume 20 - Issue 5 - p 473–477
doi: 10.1097/ACO.0b013e3282efd175
Pain medicine

Purpose of review The aim of this article is to assess the role of cannabinoids in the treatment of acute and chronic pain in humans.

Recent findings Very few clinical trials looking at the analgesic effects of cannabinoids in the acute pain settings have been performed. Three recent studies have evaluated the oral administration of synthetic cannabinoids in postoperative pain. At low doses cannabinoids are not different from placebo, whereas at high doses they may be associated with adverse effects or even worsening of pain intensity. In chronic pain patients, the safety and analgesic efficacy of a number of cannabinoid compounds have recently been evaluated in several clinical trials in several chronic pain conditions. While the small size of the trials and the relatively short duration of follow-up limits broad generalization, to date there is increasing evidence that cannabinoids are safe and effective for refractory chronic pain conditions including neuropathic pain associated with multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and peripheral neuropathy associated with HIV/AIDS.

Summary The precise role of cannabinoids in pain treatment still needs further evaluation. Cannabinoid compounds may be more effective in the context of chronic neuropathic pain than for the management of acute pain.

aDepartment of Anesthesiology and Pharmacology, University of Montréal, Canada

bDepartment of Anesthesiology and Family Medicine, McGill University Health Center, Montréal, Québec, Canada

Correspondence to Pierre Beaulieu, MD, PhD, FRCA, Associate Professor, Department of Anesthesiology, CHUM Hôtel-Dieu, 3840 rue St-Urbain, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H2W 1T8 Tel: +1 514 343 6338; fax: +1 514 343 2291; e-mail:

© 2007 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.