Even though pain management is one of the most common reasons people report for using medical marijuana in the United States,1 there is limited evidence that marijuana works to treat most types of acute or chronic pain.
A few studies have found that marijuana can be helpful in treating neuropathic pain (a specific type of chronic pain caused by damaged nerves).2 However, more research is needed to know whether marijuana works better than other options to manage pain.
Opioids and Marijuana
Opioids are a class of drugs used to reduce pain and include prescription opioids, heroin, and synthetic opioids (like fentanyl). More than 70,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2019 in the United States, and two in three of these overdose deaths involved an opioid.3 Learn more about opioids and the drug overdose epidemic.
Although some research suggests that states that legalize marijuana use for medical purposes experience a reduction in opioid prescribing and opioid-related deaths,4-7 other research that examines the impact of medical marijuana policies over a longer period of time indicates marijuana legalization is not associated with decreases in opioid overdose deaths and that prior research findings could be coincidental.8-9
Importantly, using marijuana either alone or in combination with opioids has been shown to increase risk for opioid misuse.10,11 There is no evidence that marijuana works to treat opioid use disorder. FDA-approved medications are available to treat opioid use disorder.
If you or someone close to you needs help for a substance use disorder, talk to your doctor or call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP or go to SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locatorexternal icon.
- Park JY, Wu LT. Prevalence, reasons, perceived effects, and correlates of medical marijuana use: a review. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. 2017;177:1-13.
- National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids: the current state of evidence and recommendations for research. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press; 2017.
- Wilson N, Kariisa M, Seth P, Smith IV H, Davis NL. Drug and opioid-involved overdose deaths—United States, 2017–2018. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2020;69(11):290.
- Raji MA, Abara NO, Salameh H, Westra JR, Kuo Y-F. Association between cannabis laws and opioid prescriptions among privately insured adults in the US. Preventive Medicine. 2019;125:62-68.
- Liang D, Bao Y, Wallace M, Grant I, Shi Y. Medical cannabis legalization and opioid prescriptions: evidence on US Medicaid enrollees during 1993–2014. Addiction. 2018;113(11):2060-2070.
- Bachhuber MA, Saloner B, Cunningham CO, Barry CL. Medical cannabis laws and opioid analgesic overdose mortality in the United States, 1999-2010. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2014;174(10):1668-1673.
- Pardo B. Do more robust prescription drug monitoring programs reduce prescription opioid overdose? Addiction. 2017;112(10):1773-1783.
- Chihuri S, Li G. State marijuana laws and opioid overdose mortality. Injury Epidemiology. 2019;6(1):1-12.
- Shover CL, Davis CS, Gordon SC, Humphreys K. Association between medical cannabis laws and opioid overdose mortality has reversed over time. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2019;116(26):12624-12626.
- Cooper ZD, Bedi G, Ramesh D, Balter R, Comer SD, Haney M. Impact of co-administration of oxycodone and smoked cannabis on analgesia and abuse liability. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2018;43(10):2046-2055.
- Fiellin LE, Tetrault JM, Becker WC, Fiellin DA, Hoff RA. Previous use of alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana and subsequent abuse of prescription opioids in young adults. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2013;52(2):158-163.