Medical Marijuana for Treatment of Chronic Pain and Other Medical and Psychiatric Problems. A Clinical Review, Kevin P. Hill, 2015

Medical Marijuana for Treatment of Chronic Pain and Other Medical and Psychiatric Problems. A Clinical Review

Kevin P. Hill

JAMA, 2015, 313, (24), 2474-2483.



This article is based on a conference that took place at theMedicine Grand Rounds at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts, on May 16, 2014.

IMPORTANCE : As of March 2015, 23 states and the District of Columbia had medical marijuana laws in place. Physicians should know both the scientific rationale and the practical implications for medical marijuana laws.

OBJECTIVE : To review the pharmacology, indications, and laws related to medical marijuana use.

EVIDENCE REVIEW : The medical literature on medical marijuana was reviewed from 1948 to March 2015 via MEDLINE with an emphasis on 28 randomized clinical trials of cannabinoids as pharmacotherapy for indications other than those for which there are 2 US Food and Drug Administration–approved cannabinoids (dronabinol and nabilone), which include nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy and appetite stimulation in wasting illnesses.

FINDINGS : Use of marijuana for chronic pain, neuropathic pain, and spasticity due to multiple sclerosis is supported by high-quality evidence. Six trials that included 325 patients examined chronic pain, 6 trials that included 396 patients investigated neuropathic pain, and 12 trials that included 1600 patients focused on multiple sclerosis. Several of these trials had positive results, suggesting that marijuana or cannabinoids may be efficacious for these indications.

CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE : Medical marijuana is used to treat a host of indications, a few of which have evidence to support treatment with marijuana and many that do not. Physicians should educate patients about medical marijuana to ensure that it is used appropriately and that patients will benefit from its use.

Dr Burns Mr Z is a 60-year-old man who fell at work 19 years ago and has had chronic low back pain and left leg radicular symptoms since that time. None of the numerous interventions performed in an effort to treat this painwere effective.These include an L2-3 laminectomy in 1996, multiple lumbar epidural steroid injections, selective nerve root blocks, lidocaine infusions, and a trial of a spinal cord stimulator. He has been to a pain psychologist and received physical therapy. Several medications have helped, such as gabapentin, sertraline, and nortriptyline.

His most recent magnetic resonance imaging scan showed posterior disk bulges at L2-3, L3-4, L4-5, and L5-S1, with the largest bulge at L2-3. Mild effacement of the thecal sac and narrowing of the left-sided neural foramina were seen. Mr Z was diagnosed as having failed back syndrome (chronic back pain following a laminectomy) and treated with long-term narcotics. He signed a narcotics contract with his primary care physician and has never violated the contract. Since signing his narcotics contract, Mr Z has decreased his narcotic requirements and is now taking oxycodone, 10 mg, along with ibuprofen, 600 mg, every 6 hours.

Because his overall goal remains pain relief, he has recently begun using marijuana. He received a recommendation from a cannabis clinic, a clinic whose primary function is to certify patients for the use of medical marijuana, but is now wondering if this is something his primary care physician could also agree with and therefore be responsible for the recommendation of in the future. He uses marijuana at home in the evening after returning from work. He has found marijuana to have a sedative effect, enabling him to get a good night’s sleep and to have less pain the next day.

Mr Z’s medical history is notable for hyperlipidemia, prediabetes, basal cell carcinoma, and anxiety. His other medications include bupropion, 150-mg sustained-release tablet twice daily; clonazepam, 0.5mg twice daily as needed; and simvastatin, 20mg once daily. Previously he was received disability benefits but currently works as an arborist. He drinks alcohol socially and continues to smoke cigarettes, although he has been able to cut down from 1½ packs to a half pack daily since starting bupropion. He lives at home with his adult son.