Cannabis is currently showing great promise in helping individuals who suffer from sickle cell disease. Sickle cell disease is an inherited blood disorder that affects around 100,000 people in the US. It causes the hemoglobin in the red blood cells of affected individuals to take a sickle or crescent shape. Because of this irregular formation, red blood cells tend to break down faster than normal, and this can lead to anemia and other severe health problems.
Sufferers of sickle cell disease deal with chronic pain. Currently, opioids are the go-to medication the medical community prescribes to provide pain relief. However, opioids are a dangerous choice and are currently responsible for one of the most devastating health crises America has ever faced.
For this reason, the medical community has been scrambling for alternatives to opioids for pain relief. Enter cannabis. Research is underway to determine the efficacy of cannabinoids against the pain caused by sickle cell disease.
One study has shown that cannabis is not only safe but also may be an effective medication for helping sickle cell sufferers relieve their pain. Researchers from the University of California, Irvine and the University of California, San Francisco conducted a double-blind clinical trial with 23 participants.
Over a period of five days, participants were given either a placebo or doses of inhaled vaporized cannabis that contained equal parts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). What researchers found was that cannabis helped mitigate the effect of pain on users’ activities (i.e. walking, sleeping, general enjoyment) as time increased and that cannabis also reduced the pain’s interference with users’ mood.
Although no statistically significant reduction in pain was noted in this small study, lead researcher Kalpna Gupta stated that the findings of the study “…suggest that sickle cell patients may be able to mitigate their pain with cannabis — and that cannabis might help society address the public health crisis related to opioids. Of course, we still need larger studies with more participants to give us a better picture of how cannabis could benefit people with chronic pain.”
- Abrams, D. I., et al. Effect of inhaled cannabis for pain in adults with sickle cell disease, Jama Network Open. 2020; 3(7):