Cannabis-Based Medicines and Medical Cannabis for Chronic Neuropathic Pain
Neuropathic pain represents a broad category of pain syndromes that include a wide variety of peripheral and central disorders. The overall prevalence of neuropathic pain in the general population is reported to be between 7 and 10%. Management of neuropathic pain presents an unmet clinical need, with less than 50% of patients achieving substantial pain relief with medications currently recommended such as pregabalin, gabapentin, duloxetine and various tricyclic antidepressants. It has been suggested that cannabis-based medicines (CbMs) and medical cannabis (MC) may be a treatment option for those with chronic neuropathic pain. CbMs/MC are available in different forms: licensed medications or medical products (plant-derived and/or synthetic products such as tetrahydrocannabinol or cannabidiol); magistral preparations of cannabis plant derivatives with defined molecular content such as dronabinol (tetrahydrocannabinol); and herbal cannabis with a defined content of tetrahydrocannabinol and/or cannabidiol, together with other active ingredients (phytocannabinoids other than cannabidiol/tetrahydrocannabinol, terpenes and flavonoids). The availability of different types of CbMs/MC varies between countries worldwide. Systematic reviews of available randomised controlled trials have stated low-quality evidence for CbMs and MC for chronic neuropathic pain. Depending on the studies included in the various quantitative syntheses, authors have reached divergent conclusions on the efficacy of CbMs/MC for chronic neuropathic pain (from not effective to a clinically meaningful benefit). Clinically relevant side effects of CbMs/MC, especially for central nervous system and psychiatric disorders, have been reported by some systematic reviews. Recommendations for the use of CbMs/MC for chronic neuropathic pain by various medical associations also differ, from negative recommendations, no recommendation possible, recommended as third-line therapy, or recommended as an alternative in selected cases failing standard therapies within a multimodal concept. After reading this paper, readers are invited to formulate their own conclusions regarding the potential benefits and harms of CbMs/MC for the treatment of chronic neuropathic pain.