Medical cannabis has entered mainstream medicine and is here to stay. Propelled by public advocacy, the media and mostly anecdote rather than sound scientific study, patients worldwide are exploring marijuana use for a vast array of medical conditions including management of chronic pain. Contrary to the usual path of drug approval, medical cannabis has bypassed traditional evidence-based study and has been legalized as a therapeutic product by legislative bodies in various countries. While there is a wealth of basic science and preclinical studies demonstrating effects of cannabinoids in neurobiological systems, especially those pertaining to pain and inflammation, clinical study remains limited. Cannabinoids may hold promise for relief of symptoms in a vast array of conditions, but with many questions as yet unanswered. Rigorous study is needed to examine the true evidence for benefits and risks for various conditions and in various patient populations, the specific molecular effects, ideal methods of administration, and interaction with other medications and substances. In the context of prevalent use, there is an urgency to gather pertinent clinical information about the therapeutic effects as well as risks. Even with considerable uncertainties, the health care community must adhere to the guiding principle of clinical care ‘primum non nocere’ and continue to provide empathetic patient care while exercising prudence and caution. The health care community must strongly advocate for sound scientific evidence regarding cannabis as a therapy.
Legalization of medical cannabis has bypassed usual drug regulatory procedures in jurisdictions worldwide. Pending sound evidence for effect in many conditions, physicians must continue to provide competent empathetic care with attention to harm reduction. A vision to navigate the current challenges of medical cannabis is outlined.
© 2018 European Pain Federation – EFIC®.
- PMID: 29377381
- DOI: 10.1002/ejp.1185