Potential For Cannabis To Treat Sickle Cell Disease

Sickle cell disease and cannabis
Image: Dr Graham Beards

Among the potential treatments for sickle cell disease is medical cannabis according to a recently released study.

Sickle cell disease is a group of blood disorders including sickle cell anaemia. It deforms red blood cells, which impacts on oxygen being distributed throughout the body. Symptoms can include anaemia, pain, swelling of hands and feet, frequent infections and problems with vision. The condition can lead to stroke, organ damage and pulmonary hypertension.

The disorder is usually inherited and while there’s no known cure aside from bone marrow or stem cell transplant (both very risky), symptoms can be managed. It’s estimated 100,000 Americans suffer from the condition. Approximately 4.4 million people around the world have sickle cell disease, while an additional 43 million have sickle cell trait – the trait must be inherited from both parents in order to trigger the condition.

Some patients have been turning to marijuana for relief.

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“We were aware that some of our patients living with sickle cell disease used illicit marijuana, and we sought more information about this,” say the study authors, who are associated with the Yale Cancer Center and Yale New Haven Hospital.

42% of 58 patients surveyed reported marijuana use within the past couple of years, and among these the majority favoured cannabis for medicinal purposes related to pain, anxiety, mood, sleep and appetite. A large majority reported that marijuana enabled less use of pain medications.

The authors state their findings provide a strong rationale for the study of the marijuana and/or cannabinoids in the management of sickle cell disease. They also commented that inclusion of the condition in state medical cannabis programs may not only offer relief for patients, but reduce illicit marijuana use and related risks for this group; including prosecution.

Currently, only three U.S. states (Connecticut, Ohio, and Pennsylvania) list sickle cell disease as a qualifying condition, although the pain associated with the condition may be covered under other state programs.

The study, Marijuana use in adults living with sickle cell disease, was published in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research and can be viewed here.