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Pain Research and Management
Volume 6 (2001), Issue 2, Pages 80-91

Medicinal Use of Cannabis: History and Current Status

Harold Kalant

Department of Pharmacology, University of Toronto and Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Ontario, Canada

Copyright © 2001 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


OBJECTIVE: To provide an overview of the history and pharmacology of cannabis in relation to current scientific knowledge concerning actual and potential therapeutic uses of cannabis preparations and pure cannabinoids.

METHODS: The literature on therapeutic uses of cannabis and cannabinoids was assessed with respect to type of study design, quality and variability of data, independent replications by the same or other investigators, magnitude of effects, comparison with other available treatments and reported adverse effects. The results of this review were also compared with those of major international reviews of this topic in the past five years.

CONCLUSIONS: Pure tetrahydrocannabinol and several analogues have shown significant therapeutic benefits in the relief of nausea and vomiting, and stimulation of appetite in patients with wasting syndrome. Recent evidence clearly demonstrates analgesic and antispasticity effects that will probably prove to be clinically useful. Reduction of intraocular pressure in glaucoma and bronchodilation in asthma are not sufficiently strong, long lasting or reliable to provide a valid basis for therapeutic use. The anticonvulsant effect of cannabidiol is sufficiently promising to warrant further properly designed clinical trials. There is still a major lack of long term pharmacokinetic data and information on drug interactions. For all the present and probable future uses, pure cannabinoids, administered orally, rectally or parenterally, have been shown to be effective, and they are free of the risks of chronic inflammatory disease of the airways and upper repiratory cancer that are associated with the smoking of crude cannabis. Smoking might be justified on compassionate grounds in terminally ill patients who are already accustomed to using cannabis in this manner. Future research will probably yield new synthetic analogues with better separation of therapeutic effects from undesired psychoactivity and other side effects, and with solubility properties that may permit topical administration in the eye, or aerosol inhalation for rapid systemic effect without the risks associated with smoke inhalation.