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Cannabis and sickle cell

Updated: May 30, 2023

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Sickle Cell disease is a lifelong illness that consists of a group of inherited blood cell disorders that affect hemoglobin and the shape of blood cells. Rather than having normal disc-shaped cells, a patient with this disease has crescent or ‘sickle-shaped cells. They don’t bend and cause blood flow blockage to the rest of the body. This happens due to tissue dying because of poor blood flow which is very painful.

Common symptoms include chronic pain, inflammation, eye problems, infections, strokes, and pain crises. Conventional treatments for SCD are the following: blood and bone marrow transplant, (which is currently the only cure available), recommended medications, or transfusions for complications. Gene therapy and bone marrow transplants are possible treatments in the near future.

Unfortunately, many states don’t list Sickle Cell Disease as a qualifying condition to attain a medical marijuana card, and patients have to turn to the illicit market for access. Only three states currently have it listed: CT, PA, and OH.

Before Connecticut approved SCD, a study was conducted to research cannabis use among SCD patients. According to their findings, a majority of the study participants endorsed all the medicinal reasons on the survey: pain, anxiety, mood, sleep, and appetite. A majority also reported cannabis use allowed them to use fewer pain medications. Also, the availability of medical cannabis is associated with fewer deaths related to opioids.

This study examined cannabinoid receptors to mitigate mast cell activation, neurogenic inflammation, and hyperalgesia. They utilized HbSS-BERK sickle and cannabinoid receptor-2-deleted sickle mice. It concluded cannabinoids mitigate mast cell activation, inflammation, and neurogenic inflammation in sickle mice via both cannabinoid receptors 1 and 2. This study supplied ‘proof of principle’ for the potential of cannabinoid and cannabinoid receptor therapy to treat sickle cell anemia. It also demonstrated that cannabinoids reduced mast cell activation in sickle cell anemia.

After reviewing various studies, I did notice some gaps in knowledge and it could be due to a lack of information access, legal constraints due to the states’ individual legalization status, or study participants not fully partaking and didn’t share all the requested information needed. There’s still a lot of work to do in cannabis research and I have faith the government will take this work seriously and will fully acknowledge it.

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