Updated on January 3, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Patients with sickle cell anemia, one of the types of sickle cell disease, inherit sickle-shaped blood cells from their parents. The blood cells in a person with sickle cell anemia also tend to be more rigid and stickier than normal blood cells. Because of this shape and consistency, the patient’s blood cells can get stuck in a blood vessel, causing symptoms like pain and inflammation.
We don’t have much research that directly talks about sickle cell anemia’s responsiveness to cannabis medicine, but studies on other conditions suggest it could relieve symptoms. Evidence proposes that medicinal marijuana can lower pain and inflammation, reducing tissue damage.
The most prominent study we currently have on cannabis and sickle cell anemia covers self-reported use by patients with the condition. Howard et al. wanted to gauge how many patients already used marijuana to relieve their symptoms and see how effectively this self-medication worked.
So, they offered a survey to patients at a hospital in London. The questionnaire inquired about the patient’s demographics, health profiles and cannabis habits. If someone reported they used marijuana in the past, they also answered questions about their usage patterns, symptom relief and side effects.
A total of 86 young adults completed the questionnaire, with 31 of them (36%) saying they use or have used cannabis to medicate their disease. These patients mainly wanted to lower pain, reduce anxiety and promote relaxation. Out of this group, 16 subjects used cannabis for medicinal purposes only. More than half of the entire sample said they would participate in future studies on cannabis and sickle cell disease.
Wilsey et al. found previous studies showing that THC, one of the compounds in marijuana, could relieve many kinds of pain. But, not much research investigated how blood plasma levels connected to pain relief in patients with neuropathic pain. So, they decided to examine the relationship between THC levels in blood plasma and when someone feels pain relief.
The team worked with 42 volunteers who dealt with chronic pain related to spinal cord injury and disease. Each patient received a placebo, a smaller concentration of THC or a larger concentration of THC in a vaporizer. Over the course of the day, the scientists administered doses, drew blood and recorded the subject’s pain levels.
After looking at the data they collected, Wilsey et al. discovered higher concentrations of THC in blood plasma correlated with lower rates of deep pain and burning. These results suggested it could specifically tackle intense pain and inflammation.
When looking into a scarcely investigated topic like cannabis and sickle cell anemia, it helps to get data you can apply on a broad scale. So, we can ask the question, “Does cannabis relieve pain in any kind of medical condition? Zaller et al. wanted to find out not only how it helped patients with pain, but also with other symptoms common to chronic diseases.
They surveyed 200 registered medical marijuana patients who used the services of Rhode Island compassion centers, or dispensaries. While they asked about a wide variety of health issues, they also included a pain assessment in their questionnaires.
Pain was one of the most common symptoms patients reported, with 69% of the total sample mentioning it as a problem. Fortunately, 85% of these subjects stated they felt “much better” thanks to the use of medicinal cannabis. Across health problems, cannabis was able to relieve any form of pain.
If you aren’t getting anywhere with pharmaceutical medication, you can find a safer, more reliable alternative in medical marijuana. Our extensive guide on sickle cell anemia and medical cannabis can teach you even more about treating your condition with cannabis medicine. When you’re ready to start the process, contact a medical marijuana-certified doctor near you.