New research suggests that cannabis is a safe and potentially effective treatment for the chronic pain accompanying sickle cell disease – the clinical trial is the first-of-its-kind to test cannabis as a treatment for sickle cell using gold-standard methods.
The study was co-led by University of California, Irvine researcher Kalpna Gupta and Dr. Donald Abrams of UC San Francisco. It involved 23 patients using vaporized cannabis or a vaporized placebo during two five-day inpatient sessions that were separated by at least 30 days, allowing them to act as their own control group.
Gupta said the “trial results show that vaporized cannabis appears to be generally safe” for sickle cell patients. The cannabis used in the trials was obtained from the National Institute on Drug Abuse – part of the National Institutes of Health – and contained equal parts of THC and CBD.
“They also suggest that sickle cell patients may be able to mitigate their pain with cannabis – and that cannabis might help society address the public health crisis related to opioids. Of course, we still need larger studies with more participants to give us a better picture of how cannabis could benefit people with chronic pain.” – Gupta, in a statement
Currently, opioids are the primary treatment for the chronic and acute pain caused by the disease.
Gupta added that “pain causes many people to turn to cannabis” and is cited as “the top reason” people use it.
“We don’t know if all forms of cannabis products will have a similar effect on chronic pain. Vaporized cannabis, which we employed, may be safer than other forms because lower amounts reach the body’s circulation,” she said in a statement. “This trial opens the door for testing different forms of medical cannabis to treat chronic pain.”
As the five-day study period progressed, patients reported that pain interfered less with activities, including walking and sleeping, and there was a statistically significant drop in how much pain affected their mood. Pain levels were generally lower in patients given cannabis than in those given the placebo, but the difference was not statistically significant.
The study was funded by an Excellence in Hemoglobinopathies Research Award from the NIH’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and was published in JAMA Network Open.
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