Cannabinoids in the Management of Acute Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis Journal Articles uri icon

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  • Objective: To synthesize the best evidence surrounding the efficacy of cannabinoids for acute pain in the clinical setting based on subjective pain scores and observed adverse effects. Design: Systematic review with meta-analysis. Data Sources: PubMed, Embase, Cochrane Databases, and Google Scholar. Eligibility Criteria: English-language randomized-controlled clinical trials comparing cannabinoids with placebo in patients with acute pain. Data Extraction and Synthesis: Study quality was assessed using the Cochrane risk of bias tool. All stages were conducted independently by a team of three reviewers. Data were pooled through meta-analysis and stratified by route of administration. Primary Outcomes and Measures: Patient-reported pain and adverse events (AEs). Results: Six trials (678 participants) were included examining oral (5 trials) and intramuscular (1 trial) cannabinoids. Overall, there was a small but statistically significant treatment effect favoring the use of cannabinoids over placebo (-0.90, 95% confidence interval [CI] -1.69 to -0.1, i 2=65%, p=0.03). When stratified by route of administration, intramuscular cannabinoids were found to have a significant reduction in pain relative to placebo (-2.98, 95% CI -4.09 to -1.87, i 2=0%, p<0.0001). No difference in effect was observed between oral cannabinoids and placebo (-0.21, 95% CI -0.64 to 0.22, i 2=3%, p=0.34). Serious AEs were rare, and similar across the cannabinoid (14/374, 3.7%) and placebo groups (8/304, 2.6%). Conclusions: There is low-quality evidence indicating that cannabinoids may be a safe alternative for a small but significant reduction in subjective pain score when treating acute pain, with intramuscular administration resulting in a greater reduction relative to oral. Higher quality, long-term randomized-controlled trials examining whether there may be a role for cannabinoids in treating acute pain are required.


  • Gazendam, Aaron
  • Nucci, Nicholas
  • Gouveia, Kyle
  • Abdel Khalik, Hassaan
  • Rubinger, Luc
  • Johal, Herman

publication date

  • December 1, 2020