Cannabis is a famed painkiller, and may be able to assist patients experiencing some of the painful symptoms of sickle cell anaemia. The herb is available via prescription for patients in some areas of the world.
Cannabis is a medicine that appears to ameliorate, treat, and prospectively even cure a large amount of diseases and health conditions. This pain-killing herb may also play a role in cases of sickle cell anaemia, a condition characterised by misshapen red blood cells, resulting in pain and serious complications such as inflammation and stroke. The analgesic properties of cannabis may provide relief from some of the symptoms of this condition that lower one’s quality of life.
AN OVERVIEW OF SICKLE CELL ANAEMIA
As you may very much remember from biology class, red blood cells are usually round and donut-shaped, with indentations present on both sides of the disc-like cells. This shape allows red blood cells to move swiftly and easily through blood vessels and accomplish their biological tasks, such as oxygen transportation.
However, in patients experiencing sickle cell anaemia, red blood cells appear in the shape of a crescent, or sickle. This shape is problematic and can lead to these red blood cells getting caught up and lodged within small blood vessels. This phenomenon can lead to a sort of traffic jam situation in which blood flow is slowed down or even brought to a standstill in certain areas of the body.
Sickle cell anaemia is an inherited condition, passed on via what is known as autosomal recessive inheritance. This means that both the mother and the father of the child must pass on the defective gene.
The condition itself is caused by a mutation within the gene that instructs the body to form hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein found within red blood cells that binds to oxygen, enabling red blood cells to carry the life-giving molecule around the body, and to transport it to the cells. The protein also carries carbon dioxide back to the lungs where it is expelled from the body.
With sickle cell anaemia, hemoglobin is found to be abnormal, which means red blood cells become rigid and display a problematic shape.
Sickle cell anaemia can cause a multitude of symptoms to manifest, one of which is pain. The pain is caused by the shape of the cells and how this can cause blockages within blood vessels in the chest, abdomen, and joints.
Pain in sickle cell anaemia patients varies. Some experience episodes of pain that only last for a few hours, whereas other patients can experience episodes that go on for weeks at a time. The condition can also contribute to chronic pain as a result of joint and bone damage over time.
Another symptom of the condition is anaemia. Sickle cells are fragile and can break up and die with ease, leaving a patient with less-than-optimal levels of red blood cells. This means that there aren’t enough red blood cells to transport adequate levels of nutrients and oxygen throughout the body, leading to lowered energy levels.
Other symptoms of the condition can include vision problems, delayed growth, swelling of the hands and feet, and frequent infections.
Sickle cell anaemia can also lead on to much more serious complications down the line, including stroke, acute chest syndrome, pulmonary hypertension, organ damage, blindness, leg ulcers, gallstones, and priapism.
Current treatments for sickle cell anaemia include a bone marrow transplant. The bone marrow produces red blood cells, and in a person with sickle cell anaemia, the bone marrow produces misshapen and potentially dangerous ones. If a patient is given a bone marrow transplant, the healthy marrow may help them to produce normal and functional red blood cells.
Another conventional treatment option is hydroxyurea. This drug may help prevent the formation of sickle cells and may have a positive effect of pain. However, it is associated with a myriad of side effects such as nausea, vomiting, appetite reduction, dizziness, diarrhea, hair loss, and seizures.
Patients may also receive painkillers, as well as antibiotics to combat infections.
CANNABIS AS A POTENTIAL SYMPTOM-RELIEVER
Given that a primary symptom associated with this condition is prolonged pain, a patient’s quality of life may be dramatically diminished by the symptoms. Although pharmaceutical painkillers may be used, they pose the risk of addiction and overdose. Cannabis could be of assistance to the condition in this regard, and is well-known for its analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. Additionally, the herb is extremely safe.
Treating the pain associated with sickle cell anaemia is also more important than mere pain management. The pain caused by the condition is initiated by inflammation, tissue necrosis, and vascular occlusion. This means that treating pain with cannabis may be beneficial for reducing tissue damage. Furthermore, cannabinoids like CBD pose significant anti-inflammatory mechanisms that may be of particular assistance. Since CBD is non-psychoactive, it presents an option for those patients who do not desire or cannot handle the mind-altering effects of THC.
Research in the area is not well-developed. However, a study published within the journal Blood viewed the effects of cannabinoids on mice expressing human sickle hemoglobin. It was shown that the cannabinoids attenuated the pain within the mice.