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Using Cannabis for Sickle Cell Pain

Over 100,000 Americans live with the struggles of a painful condition called sickle cell disorder, with few options for treatment. The good news is that cannabis is a proven pain killer and can help alleviate some of the excruciating symptoms that come with sickle cell. If you are curious about how cannabis can be used as a treatment option, this article is for you.  

What is Sickle Cell?

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Sickle cell disorder is a group of conditions that affect hemoglobin, the part of red blood cells that deliver oxygen to your body. You might remember from biology class that blood cells are round and donut-shaped, with disk-like indentations on both sides. People with sickle cell have hemoglobin molecules that distort red blood cells into a crescent moon shape, otherwise known as a sickle.

So, what’s the deal with misshapen blood cells? When blood cells are round, they flow freely through blood vessels. Problems arise with crescent-shaped red blood cells because they get caught within the small blood vessels and break down prematurely, leading to anemia. Anemia causes a range of problems like shortness of breath, tiredness, and delayed development in children. Pain happens with sickled red blood cells, which are inflexible and stiff, and end up getting stuck in tiny blood vessels. These types of episodes rob organs and tissue of oxygen-rich blood, which can lead to organ damage and severe pain.

Symptoms of this inherited disease usually start in early childhood. Characteristics include anemia, infections, and episodes of pain. The severity of symptoms varies from person to person. Some people have mild symptoms, while others are repeatedly hospitalized for more significant complications.

In the US, it’s estimated that 100,000 Americans are living with Sickle Cell Disorder and that it occurs in 1 out of every 365 African-American births (CDC). Sickle Cell disproportionately affects Black and Hispanic populations.

Treating Sickle Cell Pain

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Sickle cell treatments include drugs that prevent the formation of sickle cells. However, these treatments come with a host of side effects like nausea, reduced appetite, diarrhea, dizziness, hair loss, and seizures. Painkillers and antibiotics are also commonly prescribed to people fighting this disorder.

Cannabis for Sickle Cell

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Because the primary symptom for this condition is severe pain, quality of life is the main issue for sickle cell patients. Pharmaceutical painkillers are the go-to remedy for pain, but they come with the risk of addiction and overdose. Sickle cell patients need better options to manage pain and improve their quality of life. The good news is cannabis can help!

Cannabis is well known for its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties and is believed to be safer than traditional painkillers like opioids. Because the pain associated with sickle cell is instigated by inflammation and vascular occlusion, treating the pain with cannabis may help prevent tissue damage and improve overall health. Cannabis can also provide mood-enhancing and euphoric effects that may help sickle cell patients better deal with chronic pain, giving them the drive and motivation that’s needed to fight this debilitating disease.  

Research on Cannabis for Sickle Cell

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While research on cannabis for sickle cell is limited due to federal laws, a few promising studies show that cannabis can be a treatment option. A survey from 2005 shows that 36 percent of participants with the disorder use cannabis to successfully treat pain. A 2014 study looked at the use of CBD to treat sickle cell in mice. The results showed that mice given CBD had less and inflammation that those not treated. While more research is needed on cannabis for sickle cell, these studies show promise for people looking for alternative options.

Final Thoughts

While there are many anecdotal reports of people successfully treating sickle cell pain with cannabis, it’s always a good idea to consult your healthcare provider about pain management. But adding medical cannabis to your treatment plan has the potential to reduce the pain and inflammation experienced by this disease.

While some patients use medical cannabis exclusively to reduce pain, others use it in combination with prescription pain medication. So even if you continue with your current treatment, cannabis has the potential to help you reduce the number of medications you take to keep your pain under control. It’s best to consult a health care provider about developing a treatment plan designed especially for you. Once you have a plan in place, you’ll appreciate the opportunity to experience fewer side effects from opiates and live a fuller, richer life.If you’d like more information on using cannabis to treat sickle cell pain, we’d love to help. Book an appointment today at one of our many locations and our knowledgeable staff can answer all your questions.