The growing demand for improved pain treatments together with expanding legalization of, and access to, cannabinoids, cannabis, and cannabis-based medicines has intensified the focus on risk–benefit considerations in pain management. Given limited harms data from analgesic clinical trials, we conducted an overview of systematic reviews focused on all harms possibly relevant to patients receiving cannabinoids for pain management. This PROSPERO-registered, PRISMA-compliant systematic overview identified 79 reviews, encompassing over 2200 individual reports about psychiatric and psychosocial harms, cognitive/behavioral effects, motor vehicle accidents, cardiovascular, respiratory, cancer-related, maternal/fetal, and general harms. Reviews, and their included studies, were of variable quality. Available evidence suggests variable associations between cannabis exposure (ranging from monthly to daily use based largely on self-report) and psychosis, motor vehicle accidents, respiratory problems, and other harms. Most evidence comes from settings other than that of pain management (eg, nonmedicinal and experimental) but does signal a need for caution and more robust harms evaluation in future studies. Given partial overlap between patients receiving cannabinoids for pain management and individuals using cannabinoids for other reasons, lessons from the crisis of oversupply and overuse of opioids in some parts of the world emphasize the need to broadly consider harms evidence from real-world settings. The advancement of research on cannabinoid harms will serve to guide optimal approaches to the use of cannabinoids for pain management. In the meantime, this evidence should be carefully examined when making risk–benefit considerations about the use of cannabinoids, cannabis, and cannabis-based medicine for chronic pain.
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The International Association on the Study of Pain (IASP) is the leading global organization supporting the study and practice of pain and pain relief. IASP brings together scientists, clinicians, health care providers, and policymakers from around the world in pursuit of their mission to bring relief to those who are in pain.