How Can Cannabis Help With Sickle Cell Disease?

A new study shows that cannabis is an effective substitute for opioids in the treatment of Sickle Cell Disease.

A new study appearing in JAMA Network Open determines that cannabis is an effective treatment option for Sickle Cell disease (SCD). The trial was co-authored by professor of medicine of the University of California, Kalpna Gupta, and Dr. Donald Abrams of UC San Francisco.

While the study found that cannabis was not statistically significant in reducing pain, participants using cannabis were less likely to use opioids.

SCD affects one's haemoglobin, which is the responsible for releasing oxygen from the blood cells throughout the rest of the body. This mutates red blood cells into a 'sickle' shape.

The disorder lowers one's red blood count, causes high risk of infection, and results in neuropathic pain. The disease can present in childhood, and though some people only experience mild symptoms, it can cause severe pain and hospitalisation.

The recent study aimed to test the efficacy of vaping cannabis compared to a placebo drug.

SCD patients received three doses per day over a five-day period. Each dose contained 4.4% THC, and 4.9% CBD. Two courses were administered over two months.

While cannabis can reduce pain in other conditions, the study found no statistically significant results in pain relief with SCD. It did, however, find that those patients who were using cannabis were relying less on their current prescription medication.

Co-researcher Kalpna Gupta concluded that while cannabis did not significantly reduce pain, it remains a safe treatment option.

These trial results show that vaporized cannabis appears to be generally safe… They also 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.Kalpna Gupta – Professor of Medicine: UCI's Center for the Study of Cannabis

Cannabis has a reputation for being the original painkiller, however, the research into cannabis treating SCD is still in its infancy.

SCD is only a qualifying condition in four of the 33 U.S. states in which medicinal marijuana is legal. However, cannabis is widely known to treat neuropathic pain from ALS, multiple sclerosis, and glaucoma.

The study comments on the need for further research and awareness in alternative treatment options for pain. While SCD is a rare qualifying condition, cannabis use in SCD patients is common.

The current study's conclusions should not discourage cannabis use for SCD or pain relief. The trial's small sample size and duration are likely to have contributed to the results. Its effect on opioid use, however, is consistent across data and clinical studies.

A 2018 survey, for example, determined that 92% of SCD patients used cannabis for pain relief. 72% of patients reported using less opioids and painkillers while using cannabis.

The opioid epidemic remains to be a topic in need of addressing. Opioids are currently the leading pharmaceutical treatment option for pain relief. Its long-term side effects cause an amalgamation of health issues, risk opioid addiction and opioid-related death.

In the U.S. in states where cannabis is medicinally and recreationally legal, opioid prescriptions decline. Cannabis time and time again is proving to be a safe, reliable treatment in lieu of prescription medication.

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Taylor Ridewood
Taylor Ridewood

Taylor is a Sydney-based writer with a background in psychology and professional writing. She has a keen interest in the benefits of medicinal cannabis and enjoys researching the multi-faceted effects of cannabis on the body and mind.

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