Does Cannabis Use Increase Pain after Surgery?

Liz Filmer
17 Dec 2022

Data released by the American Society of Anesthesiologists shows that adults who use cannabis experience higher pain levels following surgery than those who do not.

"Cannabis is the most commonly used illicit drug in the U.S. and is increasingly used as an alternative treatment for chronic pain. There is, however, limited data that shows how it affects patient outcomes after surgery"- Elyad Ekrami, M.D., lead study author and clinical research fellow at Cleveland Clinic's Anesthesiology Institute. 

The study shows that as well as suffering from more postoperative pain, cannabis users also have higher opioid consumption following surgery.

Researchers looked at the records of 34,521 adult patients undergoing elective surgeries at Cleveland Clinic between January 2010 and December 2020. 1,681 were cannabis users, defined as anyone who had used the drug during the 30 days before surgery.

Patients who had used cannabis reported pain levels 14% higher in the first 24 hours following surgery than those who had never indulged recreationally or medicinally. Healthcare staff also administered cannabis users 7% more opioids during the first 24 hours of post-surgery recovery. 

The relationship between cannabis, pain levels and opioid administration has been examined in smaller studies but with inconsistent results. This study has a larger sample size and does not include patients with chronic pain diagnoses or those who received local anaesthesia. Study groups were balanced by complicating factors such as tobacco and drug use, sex, and mental health conditions such as depression and psychological disorders."

Further research is still needed to determine cannabis' effects on surgical outcomes further. In the meantime, doctors should consider that patients who use cannabis may require higher doses of pain management after surgery.

Liz Filmer