Can Marijuana Help Sickle Cell Patients?

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Marijuana is a drug and a plant which is very controversial across the world. There are two sides to this controversy, the people who want the drug to be legalised and those who want the drug to be outlawed in their country. Nevertheless, most people in the West believe that cannabis should at least be legal for those who need it for health reasons. Sickle cell patients are the latest batch of patients who possibly fall under this category.

To begin with, what is sickle cell disease? Sickle cell is an inherited life-long condition, most common in people of African-descent, where a person’s red blood cells are shaped like long ovals (sickles) when they should be more of a circular shape. The result of this is that sickle cell patients have red blood cells which live nowhere near as long as normal red blood cells. On top of this, sickle cell patients’ red blood cells often block the body’s blood vessels. All of these effects on the body due to sickle cell disease result in sickle cell crises (painful periods with certain parts of the body), a higher risk to dangerous infection, and anaemia (where the red blood cells cannot carry enough oxygen for the body to operate well, causing fatigue and shortness of breath.1

But what can marijuana do to improve the lives of sickle cell patients? Well, as I have previously mentioned, sickle cell patients have bouts of chronic pain which is often very intense and depressing for a person with the disease. Research by the journal JAMA Network Open and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has shown that pain from the disease results in patients having to take over-the-counter medicines like ibuprofen and aspirin. However, with patients who have the more painful sickle cell anaemia, this is often not enough to numb to pain, resulting in doctors prescribing daily opioid medications which although effective at stopping pain in the given patients, have many downsides. For example, opioids are very addictive and have very high rates of overdoses, both of which are very dangerous for a patient who already has such a horrible condition. This has resulted in doctors looking towards strong drugs which are not as addictive or threatening to the patients’ lives. What researchers found out in the USA, was that using a vaporised form of cannabis, did not hugely reduce patients’ pain compared with a placebo, but the following finding from the research was very incredible. Although the pain was still at a similar intensity as before, the pain did not affect the patients’ mood much, which is more important than the decrease in raw pain for the patients. This shows that vaporised cannabis reduces the effect of pain on the patient’s livelihood, even though the decrease in pain is negligible.2

Although vaporised marijuana is great for sickle cell patients, the prescriptions for it are often low, resulting in patients going to on-the-street dealers for marijuana or for other even more threatening drugs, who provide them in solid form, meaning that they are much more dangerous, especially as marijuana and other recreational drug production is not regulated in many countries where they are illegal.

To conclude, the solution for sickle cell patients is not necessarily for cannabis being legal. The immediate solution is to allow more manufacturing of the drug by the state for medicinal purposes, at the very least. Only by doing this can the field of medicinal drugs grow, as although drugs like cannabis can be dangerous, under the path of more state research into these taboo drugs, more useful medicines can be made to reduce the pain of patients with horrible diseases like sickle cell.


References

  1. Huzar, T., 2020. Sickle Cell Disease: Cannabis May Improve Pain-Related Mood. [online] Medicalnewstoday.com. Available at: <https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/sickle-cell-disease-cannabis-may-improve-pain-related-mood> [Accessed 25 July 2020].
  2. Rosado, J., 2020. Marijuana For Sickle Cell Disease – Marijuana Doctors. [online] Marijuana Doctors. Available at: <https://www.marijuanadoctors.com/conditions/sickle-cell-disease/> [Accessed 25 July 2020].

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