Effects of cannabinoid administration for pain: A meta-analysis and meta-regression

Yanes JA, McKinnell ZE, Reid MA, Busler JN, Michel JS, Pangelinan MM, Sutherland MT, Younger JW, Gonzalez R, Robinson JL, Exp Clin Psychopharmacol (2019).


Chronic pain states have resulted in an overreliance on opioid pain relievers, which can carry significant risks when used long term. As such, alternative pain treatments are increasingly desired. Although emerging research suggests that cannabinoids have therapeutic potential regarding pain, results from studies across pain populations have been inconsistent. To provide meta-analytic clarification regarding cannabis’s impact on subjective pain, we identified studies that assessed drug-induced pain modulations under cannabinoid and corresponding placebo conditions. A literature search yielded 25 peer-reviewed records that underwent data extraction. Baseline and end-point data were used to compute standardized effect size estimates (Cohen’s d) across cannabinoid administrations (k = 39) and placebo administrations (k = 26). Standardized effects were inverse-variance weighted and pooled across studies for meta-analytic comparison. Results revealed that cannabinoid administration produced a medium-to-large effect across included studies, Cohen’s d = -0.58, 95% confidence interval (CI) [-0.74, -0.43], while placebo administration produced a small-to-medium effect, Cohen’s d = -0.39, 95% CI [-0.52, -0.26]. Meta-regression revealed that cannabinoids, beta = -0.43, 95% CI [-0.62, -0.24], p < .05, synthetic cannabinoids, beta = -0.39, 95% CI [-0.65, -0.14], p < .05, and sample size, beta = 0.01, 95% CI [0.00, 0.01], p < .05, were associated with marked pain reduction. These outcomes suggest that cannabinoid-based pharmacotherapies may serve as effective replacement/adjunctive options regarding pain, however, additional research is warranted. Additionally, given demonstrated neurocognitive side effects associated with some constituent cannabinoids (i.e., THC), subsequent work may consider developing novel therapeutic agents that capitalize on cannabis’s analgesic properties without producing adverse effects. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).