Researchers reviewed the use of prescription cannabinoids for reducing pain, spasticity, and nausea and vomiting and any potential side effects.

Medical cannabinoids have been prescribed to help alleviate many symptoms of illnesses. Some illnesses include arthritis, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, epilepsy, and glaucoma. Due to incorrect information presented in the media, cannabinoids have developed an inaccurate and negative reputation. Some medical professionals are still hesitant in prescribing medical cannabinoids with concerns stemming from probable negative side effects. With this being said, Canadian physicians desire additional information regarding the potential benefits and risks of medical cannabinoids.

In a study published by Canadian Family Physician, researchers looked through 1085 peer-reviewed articles using MEDLINE and the Cochrane database. After much research and examination, they fully examined 62 studies. Information on patients’ backgrounds, types and doses of cannabinoids, and specific conditions (neuropathic pain, cancer, multiple sclerosis) were of the main focus.

Inconsistencies in using cannabinoids for pain

Results showed that medical cannabinoids slightly reduced pain in neuropathic patients. Researchers noticed a lot of inconsistencies in using cannabinoids for pain. They found that cannabinoids provide little to no benefit in acute pain.

Cannabinoids somewhat helped patients with multiple sclerosis

While reviewing articles focused on multiple sclerosis patients, they found that cannabinoids somewhat helped with spasticity, with an approximate 30% improvement. Inconsistencies in data also arose in this area.

Results indicate that medical cannabinoids help improve nausea and vomiting, especially among chemotherapy patients.

Side effects of cannabinoids overpowered benefits

Adverse events were found to be the most consistent effect in medical cannabinoid use. Adverse events included psychosis, feeling high, withdrawal, euphoria, and sedation. These numerous side effects overpowered any beneficial findings. The authors note that side effects are more common in infrequent cannabinoid users, while frequent users are tolerant, and therefore may not experience them.

Some patients and physicians may be unfamiliar with cannabinoids; therefore, reluctance in this treatment is still present. While side effects are the main concern, so is cannabinoid abuse and mistreatment. Further research on this topic is needed.

Written by Laura Laroche, HBASc, Medical Writer

Reference: Allan, G. Michael, et al. “Systematic reviews of systematic reviews for medical cannabinoids.” Canadian Family Physician. July 19, 2018. E78-E94. Online.

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