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Medical Marijuana and Sickle Cell Disease

What Is Sickle Cell?

People typically inherit sickle cell anemia, which results in some of the body’s red blood cells to become sticky and misshapen. When this happens, they cannot perform their function of transporting oxygen. While healthy red blood cells are flexible and round — enabling them to easily travel through blood vessels — sickle cells are more the shape of a crescent moon and also rigid. They are, as a result, more prone to become wedged in blood vessels, leading to limited or blocked circulation.

A lack of proper blood flow leads to extreme pain that can hit suddenly, known as a “pain crisis.” This problem often occurs without any warning and can sometimes be chronic. Symptoms include:

  • Severe pain
  • Vision difficulties
  • Growth retardation
  • Frequent infections
  • Swelling in the hands and feet


People who have sickle cell anemia are at a much higher risk of deadly infections, as well as heart attacks and strokes. They also tend to be at an increased risk of blood clots, eye problems, liver problems, kidney damage, leg ulcers and several other serious problems.

Treatment Options

The only cure for sickle cell anemia is an extremely complicated bone marrow transplant, which is difficult to perform because it is hard to find appropriate donors. There are several treatment options that focus on prolonging life and managing symptoms, but, unfortunately, the current life expectancy of someone with the disease is only 40 to 60 years of age.

Doctors often prescribe antibiotics to fight infections and medications to address pain. One medication, Hydroxyurea, is sometimes effective in helping to prevent sickle-shaped cells from forming, as well as reducing pain. However, it can lead to severe side effects that include dizziness, loss of hair, vomiting, loss of appetite and many others.

How Can Cannabis Help Those Suffering From Sickle Cell Disease?

Medical cannabis for sickle cell disease is growing in acceptance. It is in no way a panacea for all patients, but it has shown to be a versatile, useful medicine for many. Pot’s euphoric, uplifting effects help enhance a patient’s mood, and cannabis also has anti-inflammatory and pain-relief properties as well. Medical marijuana is also a safe, effective alternative to potentially dangerous medications such as opiates.

It is extremely important to treat the pain associated with the disease for reasons that extend beyond the comfort of the patient. Sickle cell pain can be the result of many different complications, including inflammation as well as blood vessel blockage. When inflammation is reduced, tissue damage can be minimized. This, in turn, will help to improve a patient’s overall health.

States Where Medical Marijuana for Sickle Cell Disease Is Legal

The laws pertaining to the conditions that can be treated with medical cannabis are varied — and often confusing. Certain states allow it for some conditions, while not allowing it for others. As of this writing, only Connecticut, Georgia, Ohio and Pennsylvania list sickle cell among the qualifying conditions that can be treated with medical weed. Massachusetts, the state of Washington and Washington D.C. allow the use of marijuana as a treatment for sickle cell as long as it is recommended by a physician.

If you would like to learn more about the benefits of medical cannabis for sickle cell disease, please contact online.

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