Cannabinoids for chronic pain

When physical pain won’t stop: According to the German Pain League, at least 23 million people in Germany suffer from chronic pain [1]. This makes pain disorders one of the most common, widespread diseases, along with cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. Even more concerning is the fact that a large proportion of pain patients receive inadequate medical care. Medical cannabis has the potential to alleviate chronic pain and improve the quality of life of those affected.

When does pain become chronic?

Acute pain has a warning function: It is usually a direct reaction to a dangerous situation, for example an injury. The pain ensures that the affected person takes care of the areas, and the healing process gets underway. Chronic pain, on the other hand, is considered by the medical community to be a disease in its own right. It lasts longer than six months or occurs repeatedly – usually in form of back, head, abdominal or nerve pain. Tumor pain, which occurs as part of a cancer disease, is also classified as chronic pain. 

Multimodal pain therapy for chronic pain

Acute pain should always be treated appropriately with medication to prevent the development of a pain memory. Nevertheless, high-dose painkillers should not be taken lightly for weeks without medical advice. In addition to physical and psychological dependence, there is also a risk of stomach, liver or kidney damage.

Especially in the case of chronic pain, close cooperation with physicians qualified in pain therapy is essential: this is where the so-called multimodal pain therapy comes into play. This follows the principle that chronic pain always has psychological and social factors in addition to physical causes. Multimodal pain therapy therefore includes a combination of pain-relieving medication, psychotherapy, exercise therapy and physiotherapy.

Does medical cannabis alleviate chronic pain?

Today, researchers believe that cannabinoids from the cannabis plant, such as THC and cannabidiol (CBD), have analgesic and anti-inflammatory characteristics. The substances act in the human spinal cord and appear to dampen pain transmission to the brain [2]. This mode of action is used by physicians in pain therapy.

Recent scientific research demonstrates the efficacy of pharmaceutical cannabis for chronic pain [3]. Patients report, among other things.

  • Significant and in some cases rapid reduction in pain perception
  • Increase in health-related quality of life (physical and psychological).
  • Reduction in the use of analgesics (especially opiates).

Fewer migraine attacks due to cannabinoids

Anyone who struggles with migraine attacks on at least 15 days a month is suffering from a chronic pain disorder. Many sufferers have been searching for years for a suitable medication against the acute pain and for adequate prophylaxis. In this context, the results of an Israeli patient survey are impressive [4]: Phytocannabinoids are able to reduce the number of agonizing migraine attacks. Patients were also able to reduce their use of painkillers.

The cross-sectional study evaluated data from 145 patients who suffered from other diseases in addition to migraine attacks.

Medical cannabis has multidimensional effects on chronic pain

A study from Florida [5] shows the effectiveness of medical cannabis in chronic pain patients. In addition to a significant improvement in pain intensity, an increase in sleep duration and an improvement in quality of life were observed in patients treated with medical cannabis. Data from 46 adults were included in the analysis.

Fewer painkillers for the elderly through medical cannabis

Cannabinoids can be a useful adjunct to pain management, particularly for the elderly. A three-year evaluation of a German statutory health insurance practice showed that opioid use was significantly reduced by 50 percent in elderly pain patients when they were treated with medical cannabis [6].

Important: The cannabinoid medication was administered for 366 days, an extended period of time. In total, data from 178 patients were analyzed.


In addition to their analgesic characteristic, cannabinoids improve the quality of life of patients with chronic pain and may reduce the use of analgesics. Medical cannabis thus has the potential to be a valuable component in multimodal pain management.

Important: Therapy of chronic pain with medical cannabis should only be carried out after medical consultation and prescription! Only then is it ensured that the active ingredients meet pharmaceutical quality standards and can fully develop their benefits.


[1] Deutsche Schmerzliga E.V. Retrieved November 11, 2022, from

[2] Starowicz K, Finn DP. Cannabinoids and Pain: Sites and Mechanisms of Action. Adv Pharmacol. 2017;80:437-475. doi: 10.1016/bs.apha.2017.05.003. Epub 2017 Jun 20. PMID: 28826543.

[3] Safakish, R., Ko, G., Salimpour, V., Hendin, B., Sohanpal, I., Loheswaran, G., & Yoon, S. Y. R. (2020). Medical Cannabis for the Management of Pain and Quality of Life in Chronic Pain Patients: A Prospective Observational Study. Pain Medicine, 21(11), 3073–3086.

[4] Aviram, J., Vysotski, Y., Berman, P., Lewitus, G. M., Eisenberg, E., & Meiri, D. (2020). Migraine Frequency Decrease Following Prolonged Medical Cannabis Treatment: A Cross-Sectional Study. Brain Sciences, 10(6).

[5] Wang, Y., Jacques, J., Li, Z., Sibille, K., & Cook, R. (2021). Health outcomes among adults initiating medical marijuana for chronic pain: A 3-month prospective study incorporating ecological momentary assessment (EMA). Cannabis, 4(2), 69–83.

[6] Gastmeier, K., Gastmeier, A., Rottmann, F., Herdegen, T., & Böhm, R. (2022). [Cannabinoids reduce opioid use in older patients with pain : Retrospective three-year analysis of data from a general practice]. Schmerz (Berlin, Germany).

About Mirjam Hübner

Mirjam Hübner ist Diplom-Journalistin und arbeitet als Redakteurin und Kommunikationstrainerin. Sie verfügt über langjährige Erfahrung in Journalismus und Unternehmenskommunikation, vor allem in den Bereichen Gesundheit und Finanzdienstleistung.