OBJECTIVE: To determine the effect of smoked cannabis on the neuropathic pain of HIV-associated sensory neuropathy and an experimental pain model. METHODS: Prospective randomized placebo-controlled trial conducted in the inpatient General Clinical Research Center between May 2003 and May 2005 involving adults with painful HIV-associated sensory neuropathy. Patients were randomly assigned to smoke either cannabis (3.56% tetrahydrocannabinol) or identical placebo cigarettes with the cannabinoids extracted three times daily for 5 days. Primary outcome measures included ratings of chronic pain and the percentage achieving >30% reduction in pain intensity. Acute analgesic and anti-hyperalgesic effects of smoked cannabis were assessed using a cutaneous heat stimulation procedure and the heat/capsaicin sensitization model. RESULTS: Fifty patients completed the entire trial. Smoked cannabis reduced daily pain by 34% (median reduction; IQR = -71, -16) vs 17% (IQR = -29, 8) with placebo (p = 0.03). Greater than 30% reduction in pain was reported by 52% in the cannabis group and by 24% in the placebo group (p = 0.04). The first cannabis cigarette reduced chronic pain by a median of 72% vs 15% with placebo (p < 0.001). Cannabis reduced experimentally induced hyperalgesia to both brush and von Frey hair stimuli (p </= 0.05) but appeared to have little effect on the painfulness of noxious heat stimulation. No serious adverse events were reported. CONCLUSION: Smoked cannabis was well tolerated and effectively relieved chronic neuropathic pain from HIV-associated sensory neuropathy. The findings are comparable to oral drugs used for chronic neuropathic pain.