Medical cannabis use is an emerging topic of interest in orthopedics. Although there is a large amount of literature on medical cannabis use for managing various types of pain, few studies have focused on orthopedic conditions. There is little high-quality evidence in core orthopedic areas. The objective of this study was to summarize the literature on the efficacy of cannabis use for pain related to orthopedic conditions.
We conducted a systematic review of the literature on the use of cannabinoids for pain management in core orthopedic conditions. Two independent reviewers extracted information on reporting quality, risk of bias, drugs, population, control, duration of study, pain outcomes and the authors’ conclusions regarding efficacy for pain outcomes.
We identified 33 orthopedic studies, including 21 primary studies and 12 reviews. Study quality was generally low to moderate. Six of the included studies had a control group and 15 were noncontrolled studies. Methodologies, drugs and protocols of administration varied greatly across studies. Study conclusions were generally positive in noncontrolled studies and mixed in controlled studies. Studies using higher doses tended to conclude that cannabis use was effective, but the potential for harmful effects may also be increased with higher doses.
Variability in the methodologies used in cannabis research makes it challenging to draw conclusions about dosing, routes and frequency of administration. Most of the existing evidence suggests that medical cannabis use is effective, but this efficacy has been demonstrated only when either there is no comparator or cannabis is compared with placebo. Studies using an active comparator have not demonstrated efficacy. Future research should focus on improving study reporting and methodologic quality so that protocols that optimize pain control while minimizing harmful effects can be determined.