While there is limited research on the effects of cannabinoids on sickle cell anemia, studies done so far have suggested that the compounds may possess the potential to help patients manage the pain that is associated with the disease.
Sickle Cell Anemia
Sickle cell anemia is a group of inherited blood cell disorders that causes blood cells to assume an abnormal shape. Red blood cells are responsible for transport and distribution of oxygen to body cells and tissues. Healthy red cells have a disc-like shape with a membrane like a loose bag. This allows the cell to be flexible and able to move through the blood vessels. In sickle cell disease, the red blood cells assume the shape of a crescent, or a sickle. Cells with a sickle shape are not flexible, and easily become stuck to the walls of the blood vessels. This results in blockages, constituting an impediment to blood flow and oxygen delivery. Poor tissue oxygenation results in a sudden, severe pain known clinically as pain crises.
Sickle cell anemia is a disease that lasts a lifetime, except in cases where the patient accesses a hematopoietic stem cell transplant – which is quite rare. The severity of the disease can vary from patient to patient, but the sickle cell can eventually affect the spleen, brain, eyes, lung, liver, heart, kidneys, penis, joints, bones or skin. As with all diseases for which a cure is not likely or nonexistent, the management of symptoms becomes important for quality of life and well-being.
How Cannabinoids Can Help
Studies have shown that industrial hemp-derived cannabinoids, especially cannabidiol (CBD), can play a therapeutic role in treating the symptoms of sickle cell anemia, mainly for relieving the severe and often unpredictable bouts of pain and its associated psychological effects.
Studies have long shown that CBD is very effective for pain management. Results from studies that have investigated the analgesic effects of cannabinoids for sickle cell anemia have also been promising. In a trial carried out in 2010, it was discovered that administration of cannabinoids effectively relieved pain in mice expressing the sickle hemoglobin of humans.
Additionally, cannabinoids are a safer option compared to opioids, which are the most commonly prescribed medications for sickle cell anemia patients experiencing pain. Opioids have many side effects including sedation, nausea, dizziness, constipation, and vomiting. There is also a high risk of abuse, addiction, and overdose due to depression of the respiratory system. However, fatal overdose on cannabinoids is not possible. A recent study has shown that CBD has a favorable safety profile. Another study has shown that people who use industrial hemp-derived cannabinoids prefer them to opioids for relief from pain.
Cannabinoids also possess anti-inflammatory properties that could be beneficial for inhibiting or reducing the incidence of blood vessel blockage due to sickle cell anemia.
A 2005 questionnaire of sickle cell patients who used cannabinoids reported that 52 percent do so for the purpose of pain reduction, while 39 percent used cannabinoids to relieve depression and anxiety while inducing relaxation.
The Future and Managing Symptoms
Thus far, the results of how cannabinoids can manage symptoms for patients who have to live with sickle cell anemia are promising. There are many diseases like sickle cell, that cause chronic severe pain and inflammation for people. With diseases like diabetes, arthritis, cancer, and chronic neuropathic pain, patients not only suffer from pain but also from the psychological toll that living with a disease can cause. Cannabinoids can treat all of this without the harmful side effects of opioids.
Patients deserve access to natural, safe, effective alternatives, and health care professionals deserve the research-driven results to have the confidence to recommend them. The reason that cannabinoids are still an alternative and not a standard is due to the lack of research. There are centuries of anecdotal evidence that cannabis can treat many symptoms. The only reason we are just beginning to scratch the surface in cannabinoid research is due to the residual propaganda-based fear of last holdout special interest groups. Everyone from legislators to farmers to health care providers to patients wants more information and access to industrial hemp-derived cannabinoids. And the scientific community is chomping at the bit to receive government funding and permission to perform the research.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is one of 11 agencies that are part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The NCI has updated information about how cannabinoids can treat the side effects of cancer and how cannabinoids have been shown to KILL cancer in the laboratory.
Although it has taken valuable time, the scientific community and even the government are getting closer to fully realizing how important it is for us to rigorously research and comprehend as much as possible all that cannabinoids can contribute to our well-being.
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