July 20, 2020

Cannabis Found Effective to Treat Sickle Cell Disease Pain

July 20, 2020
Medical Marijuana

Cannabis appears to be a safe and potentially effective treatment for the chronic pain that afflicts people with sickle cell disease, according to a new clinical trial co-led by University of California, Irvine (UCI) researcher Kalpna Gupta and Dr. Donald Abrams of UC San Francisco.

The study’s results, released July 17, 2020, could have wide-reaching ramifications in that opioids are currently the primary treatment to ease the chronic and acute pain suffered by those afflicted with sickle cell disease (SCD).

SCD is a common inherited blood disorder, also called sickle cell anemia in its more serious stage. The disease affects an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 Americans.

The only cure for SCD is bone marrow or stem cell transplant, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

The rise in opioid-related deaths and addiction has prompted physicians to prescribe them less frequently, thereby leaving sickle cell patients with fewer and fewer treatment options.

Sickle Cell Disease and Cannabis

“These trial results show that vaporized cannabis appears to be generally safe,” researcher Kalpna Gupt, a professor of medicine on the faculty of University of California Irvine’s Center for the Study of Cannabis.

Gupta said that, in addition to the study at hand, the trial opened the door for testing different forms of medical cannabis to treat chronic pain, including vaporized forms, which is what they used in the study. He noted that treating pain is the top reason people cite for seeking cannabis from dispensaries. 

“They [the trials] 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. 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.”

The double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial was the first to employ such gold-standard methods to assess cannabis’s potential for pain alleviation in people with sickle cell disease, noted a press release from UCI’s Center for the Study of Cannabis.

Researchers assessed participants’ pain levels throughout the treatment period and found that the effectiveness of cannabis, which contained equal parts THC and CBD, appeared to increase over time.

As the five-day study period progressed, the twenty three subjects reported that pain interfered less and less with their activities, including walking and sleeping, and there was a statistically significant drop in how much pain affected their mood.

The findings appear in JAMA Network Open.

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