The following information is presented for educational purposes only.
Medical Marijuana Inc. provides this information to provide an understanding
of the potential applications of cannabidiol. Links to third party websites
do not constitute an endorsement of these organizations by Medical Marijuana
Inc. and none should be inferred.
Sickle cell anemia is an inherited blood cell disorder that in the United
States affects primarily black Americans. Studies have shown marijuana is
effective at lowering the levels of severe pain commonly associated with the
disorder and can help maintain proper blood flow to lower the risk of tissue
Overview of Sickle Cell Anemia
Sickle cell anemia is an inherited condition that causes red blood cells
become misshapen and sticky, preventing them from carrying oxygen throughout
the body. Healthy blood cells are round and flexible, designed to travel
through blood vessels with ease. In sickle cell anemia, red blood cells are
rigid and shaped like crescent moons. As a result, they will commonly get
stuck and build up in smaller blood vessels and can limit or block normal
When the sickle-shaped blood cells get caught and block blood flow, the
result is often sudden and severe pain that’s referred to as “pain crises.”
Pain crises often come without warning. According to the National Heart,
Lung, and Blood Institute, children with sickle cell anemia are mostly pain
free between painful crises. However, adolescents and adults can suffer from
chronic, ongoing pain.
Sickle cell anemia is a life-long disease. The only “cure” is to undergo a
hematopoietic stem cell transplant, which requires a well-matched donor.
Therefore, treatment focus typically involves reducing symptoms and
prolonging life. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute reports that
the life expectancy of a person with sickle cell anemia is 40 to 60 years.
Findings: Effects of Cannabis on Sickle Cell Anemia
Cannabis has analgesic properties that have long been found to be effective
for treating severe pain and it’s subsequently been used to treat pain
caused by a variety of ailments and conditions (Elikkottil, Gupta & Gupta,
2009). When examining cannabis’ pain-relieving capabilities specifically for
sickle-cell anemia, scientists found that medical marijuana is effective at
lowering levels (Kohli, et al., 2010). A 2005 questionnaire discovered that
sickle cell patients that use cannabis to help treat their disease’s
associated symptoms do so to reduce pain (52%) and to induce relaxation or
relieve anxiety and depression (39%) (Howard, et al., 2005).
Opiates are commonly used to treat the pain associated with sickle cell
anemia, but the drugs sometimes have problematic side effects, including
sedation, appetite loss, nausea, constipation and respiratory depression (Alikottil,
Gupta & Gupta, 2009). Studies have found that cannabinoids, compared to
opioids, are effective at relieving pain in lower doses and with fewer side
effects (Elikkottil, Gupta & Gupta, 2009).
Treating sickle cell anemia pain is important for reasons beyond the comfort
of patients. The pain caused by sickle cell anemia is the result of vascular
occlusion, tissue infarction and inflammation. Therefore, treating the
painful episodes associated with sickle cell anemia with cannabis, which has
been found to have anti-inflammatory properties, is important for minimizing
tissue damage and for improving the patient’s overall health (Elikkottil,
Gupta & Gupta, 2009) (Signorelli, et al., 2013).
States That Have Approved Medical Marijuana for Sickle Cell Anemia
Currently, just Connecticut, Georgia, Ohio and Pennsylvania have
specifically approved medical marijuana to treat sickle cell anemia.
However, several other states approve marijuana for the treatment of chronic
pain, a symptom commonly associated with sickle cell anemia. These states
include: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, New
Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode
Island and Vermont.
The states of Nevada, New
Dakota, Ohio and Vermont allow
medical marijuana to treat “severe pain.” The states of Arkansas, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington have
approved cannabis for the treatment of “intractable pain.”
Other states may allow medical marijuana to be used for the treatment of
sickle cell anemia with the recommendation of a physician. These states
include: Massachusetts (other
conditions as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s physician),
and Washington (any
“terminal or debilitating condition”).
D.C., any condition can be approved for medical marijuana as long as a
DC-licensed physician recommends the treatment.
Recent Studies on Cannabis’ effect on Sickle Cell Anemia
Marijuana-like compounds can block the spread of HIV virus throughout
the body during infection’s late stages.
Cannabinoid Receptor 2-Mediated Attentuation of CXCR4-Tropic HIV
Infection in Primary CD4+T Cells
Cannabinoids were effective in lowering both pain and hyperalgesia
(abnormally heighted sensitivity to pain) in rats exhibiting the same
characteristics of pain observed in sickle cell disease patients.
Pain-related behaviors and neurochemical alterations in mice expressing
sickle hemoglobin: modulation by cannabinoids
Elikkottil, J., Gupta, P. and Gupta, K. (2009, November-December). The
analgesic potential of cannabinoids. Journal of Opioid Management, 5(6),
Howard, J., Anie, KA., Holdcroft, A., Korn, S. and Davies, SC. (2005,
October). Cannabis use in sickle cell disease: a questionnaire study.
British Journal of Haematology, 131(1), 123-8.
Kohli, DR., Li, Y., Khasabov, SG., Gupta, P., Kehl, LJ., Ericson, ME.,
Nguyen, J., Gupta, V., Hebbel, RP., Simone, DA. and Gupta, K. (2010,
July 22). Pain-related behaviors and neurochemical alterations in mice
expressing sickle hemoglobin: modulation by cannabinoids. Blood, 116(3),
Sickle Cell Anemia. (2014, June 11). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sickle-cell-anemia/basics/definition/con-20019348.
Signorelli, AA., Ribeiro, SB., Moraes-Souza, H., de Oliveira, LF.,
Ribeiro, JB., da Silva, SH., de Oliveira, DF., and Ribeiro, MF. (2013).
Pain measurement as part of primary healthcare of adult patients with
sickle cell disease. Revista Brasilileira de Hematologia e Hemoterapia,
What Is Sickle Cell Disease? (2015, June 12). National Heart, Lung, and
Blood Institute. Retrieved from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sca.
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