Study Indicates Cannabis May Help Treat Sickle Cell Disease

By Benjie Cooper

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A group of researchers at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut have released the results of a study that examines cannabis use by people living with sickle cell disease and how their marijuana consumption affects the condition.

Medicinal cannabis is available in more than half of the United States, but with the exception of states such as California that have no list of qualifying conditions, just five states include (Connecticut, Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia) include sickle cell disease in their roster of illnesses that a person must have to be able to use medical marijuana.

In 2016, there were over four million people around the world living with sickle cell disease, a genetic condition that usually begins showing signs in the first five or six months of life. Common symptoms include anemia, bacterial infections, swollen hands and feet, pain attacks (sickle cell crisis), and strokes.

Authors of the study practice at an urban, academic medical center and provide medical care for 130 adults living with sickle cell disease.

Of the fifty-eight patients surveyed, 42% indicated marijuana use within the past two years, with the majority of it being for medicinal purposes. Patients reported that using cannabis to treat their symptoms allowed them to use less pain medication, a finding that aligns with Medicare data that shows a drop in pain medication prescriptions in states with medical cannabis.

“Our findings and those of others create a rationale for research into the possible therapeutic effects of marijuana or cannabinoids,” write the authors in their conclusion. “Explicit inclusion of sickle cell disease as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana might reduce illicit marijuana use and related risks and costs to both persons living with sickle cell disease and society.”

Urinalysis studies and cannabis use surveys were approved by the Yale University institutional review board, and the data was collected as part of the research group’s ongoing adult sickle cell program.