September is National Sickle Cell Awareness Month. Sickle cell anemia – an inherited blood disorder is a qualifying condition under the Commonwealth’s Medical Marijuana Program – and among the most common genetic diseases in the United States, affecting approximately 100,000 Americans. This disorder may pose daily challenges to patients’ quality of life – including bouts of fatigue, pain, and inflammation.
While these health challenges can be daunting, patients with sickle cell disease can lead full lives. Read this edition of our Qualifying Conditions newsletter for a closer look at how medical marijuana may provide an alternative tool to potentially improve the daily experiences of Commonwealth patients living with this condition.
QUALIFYING CONDITION: Sickle Cell Anemia
“Sickle cell anemia is an inherited red blood cell disorder in which there aren’t enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout your body.”
About this qualifying condition: A genetic disease that attacks the body’s hemoglobin and red blood cells, sickle cell anemia is named as such due to the way this condition impacts the shape of a patient’s red blood cells – resulting in crescent or sickle-shaped cells that may block vessels. Blockages of unhealthy cells impede regular blood and oxygen flow throughout the body, provoking episodes of pain and fatigue. Other symptoms of sickle cell anemia may include hypertension, susceptibility to infection, swelling and inflammation.
While many individuals may unknowingly carry the sickle cell gene, the disorder only manifests in children whose biological parents both carry the trait. In the United States, sickle cell disease occurs most commonly in African-American communities. The CDC estimates that sickle cell disease occurs in 1 out of every 365 Black or African-American births and 1 out of every 16,300 Hispanic-American births.
Treatment varies, based on the severity of individual patient experiences and needs. For severe cases of sickle cell anemia, blood transfusions and bone marrow transplants from a close genetic match may provide patients with life-saving levels of healthy cells. In addition to regular preventative screenings, many sickle cell patients are also prescribed medication – including opioids – for pain management.
Medical Literature: A study from 2020, in which 50 patients diagnosed with sickle cell disease were certified for medical marijuana use, observed that “obtaining medical marijuana was associated with a subsequent reduction in hospital admissions.”
A 2020 clinical trial set out to determine whether inhaled marijuana may be a safe option for pain management among sickle cell disease patients, who are being treated with opioids. Researchers found that sedation was the most common side effect of marijuana usage among trial participants, with the severity of marijuana side effects scoring “less than 1 on a scale of 1 to 3.” These results suggest that medical marijuana may potentially provide pain management without the risks and adverse effects commonly associated with opioid use – including nausea, respiratory depression, and dependence.
Products with Potential Benefits: As medication needs for sickle cell anemia symptoms may vary widely, it is important that patients have access to products that allow them to adjust their dose, as needed. The dry leaf or “flower” form of medical marijuana may potentially enable patients to increase their dose more gradually.
Our premium strains of prime whole flower also feature harvest-fresh levels of terpenes, aromatic compounds found in the essential oils of the cannabis plant that may work with cannabinoids— like the psychoactive chemical THC — to produce a medicinal effect. Dr. Ethan Russo’s landmark study “Taming THC” cites caryophyllene, linalool, and myrcene as terpenes with pain-relieving potential. Studies as recent as 2017 have also found that the citrusy terpene limonene may potentially alleviate fatigue.
Because fatigue and pain are typically co-occurring symptoms of sickle cell anemia, patients might explore strains and products which contain both myrcene and limonene — like our Grower’s Select cultivar Papa Legba #8. Our latest batch of expertly crafted Papa Legba live resin cartridges packs bright lemon flavors and over 11% total terpenes into a ready-to-use form.
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