Medical Marijuana Benefits Individuals with Sickle Cell Disease

Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) affects around 100,000 people in the United States alone and is the most common of genetic blood disorders. Despite medical and technological advancements that help sufferers live into adulthood, severe forms of SCD can shorten lives by up to 30 years. “People with SCD have abnormal red blood cells that prevent blood from reaching the body’s tissues and organs, causing crippling pain, infection, and in some cases, stroke and other serious health problems” [1]. SCD causes acute and persistent pain for which opioids are almost exclusively prescribed but increasingly difficult to obtain. With studies to back up this claim, medical marijuana is fast becoming the least restrictive pain management option available for those with SCD [2].

If you would like to know if medical marijuana (MMJ) is right for you, schedule an exam with one of our Florida Marijuana Doctors. You may complete our eligibility survey in just 5 minutes to find out if you pre-qualify for a recommendation.

Medical Marijuana: An Alternative to Opioids

A study published in the journal, Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research sought to uncover how medical marijuana benefits those living with sickle cell disease. Called “Marijuana Use in Adults Living with Sickle Cell Disease,” the study surveyed 130 adults diagnosed with SCD, of which 42 percent had used marijuana in the 2 years prior to the study [3]. 79 percent of those patients reported a reduction in the use of prescribed medications after using marijuana for pain. Many seek marijuana as an alternative to opioids or because other kinds of medications do not relieve their pain. 

Once SCD became a qualifying condition in the state of Connecticut, the number of requests for medical marijuana certificates greatly increased over a 1.5 year period, suggesting that patients of sickle cell disease are definitely looking for alternatives to manage their pain. It is believed that legalization of marijuana for those living with SCD has and will continue to reduce the use of marijuana for illicit purposes, though more clinical research is needed on how cannabinoids relieve the symptoms of SCD [4].

Another study published in May of 2019 and titled “Management of Chronic Pain in Adults Living with Sickle Cell Disease in the Era of the Opioid Epidemic” interviewed 15 adults with SCD. The goal was to investigate concerns about the restrictions on opioid prescriptions in the United States and how they effect pain management regimens for those living with SCD. It found that opioids are almost exclusively prescribed to patients with SCD and that, despite the increased difficulty to obtain opioid prescriptions, doctors do not provide access to nonopioid medicines or alternative therapies [2].

SCD Patients Use Cannabis to Relieve Pain, Anxiety, and Depression

Some participants admitted the least restrictive nonopioid therapy they use is marijuana. When asked if they had difficulty in obtaining opioids, one anonymous patient said, “Yes, the hydrocodone pills. Because once CVS got their first prescription there’s only just that 1 prescription and then I needed a refill or whatever [after taking public transportation to pharmacy]. I had to like go back to my clinic and tell them I need a refill. They have to send it upstairs [and] I had to take it up there myself. Then I have to take the [public transportation] and this paper back to CVS. Then CVS said they’re missing something so I had to go back to my clinic. Honestly, really and truly, I do not use my pain medicine [opioids]…I smoke [marijuana].” 

Another participant stated, “They had me on 180 milligrams of oxycodone and 30 milligrams of methadone. That was my pain regimen at home every day. I went from a very social person to a very isolated person and I would sleep all the time. I told my family, my pastor, and friends I am really close to [about using marijuana]. I only vape when I am in pain or when I feel it so it is not an everyday thing for me. I won’t say I was able to replace all my medicine except for the muscle relaxer but no more opioids. As of right now, I’m not affected by the opioid epidemic because I took myself out of it” [2]. 

It is common for those with chronic illnesses to feel frustrated and sad because coping with pain is stressful, and SCD can keep them from engaging in social activities [5]. While patients with SCD that use marijuana do so mostly for pain and inflammation, they also reported it lessened symptoms of depression and anxiety without the grogginess and severe constipation brought on by opioids [2]. 

Those living with SCD who are recommended for medical marijuana use should consider the following pain-relieving strains in their treatment regimen:

  • Big Wreck (Indica): A relaxing, mellow strain that helps with insomnia, anxiety, and depression.
  • Mother of Berries (Indica): Aids with depression and insomnia resulting from the stress of dealing with pain.
  • Purple Dream (Hybrid): Fights pain, but also great for anxiety, depression, stress, and fatigue.
  • Fortune Cookies (Sativa-dominant hybrid): Helps with anxiety, depression, and stress.

Is medical marijuana right for me?

Whether medical marijuana will help your condition depends on many factors best evaluated by a medical doctor. If you feel you may benefit from medical marijuana, the first step is to take our online eligibility survey. In just 5 minutes, you could pre-qualify for a recommendation. A Florida Marijuana Doctor can then determine if you qualify during an in-person exam. For more information, visit https://docmj.com.

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/hemoglobinopathies/data-reports/2018-summer/index.html
  2. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2734070
  3. https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/can.2018.0001
  4. https://sicklecellanemianews.com/2018/10/23/marijuana-use-common-sickle-cell-disease-patients-survey/
  5. https://www.marijuanadoctors.com/conditions/sickle-cell-anemia/