Blood cells contain oxygen. Healthy blood cells are disc shaped. Sickle cell disease, caused by red blood cells containing an abnormal protein, means the cells are crescent shaped, like sickles, so they have a harder time traversing blood vessels that are small. People in Africa have dealt with this condition for at least five millennia, but it was first observed in the United States in 1910. It affects black people more.

A blood sample containing sickle cells. Photo: scooterdmu

A blood sample containing sickle cells. Photo: scooterdmu

It runs in families

The disease runs in families, so testing for sickle cell traits is a good idea because, if both parents have them, the chance of the disease developing is 25 percent, and the chance of being a carrier is 75 percent. Having only one sickle cell trait confers resistance to malaria. Full-blown sickle cell disease, however, provides no resistance, and the pain of malaria can be a major trigger for a sickle cell crisis.

The symptoms

One early symptom of sickle cell disease is swelling of the hands or feet. More advanced symptoms include fatigue and jaundice. In time, it can cause infections, delayed growth, pain and strokes. In the course of a lifetime, sickle cell disease can damage a person’s spleen, skin, penis, lungs, liver, kidneys, joints, heart, eyes, brain or bones. Children with the condition are mostly free of pain, but this can be severe in older people. Pain can last for hours or even weeks. Sickle cell disease usually shortens lives, killing around 29,000 people worldwide in 2010.

How to cure it

At present, the only cure is a bone marrow transplant in childhood, an option available to very few sufferers that is most painful and depends on finding a matched donor. The drug hydroxyurea can reduce pain but has major side effects that include diarrhoea, dizziness, hair loss, infection, hair loss, loss of appetite, nausea, seizures, sores and vomiting.

Time for cannabis!

That makes it time for cannabis. Those struck by sickle cell disease often resort to it. People so doing end up in hospital less. This is because, apart from being damned good fun, cannabis relieves pain and is anti-inflammatory. It can lessen tissue damage. It has been repeatedly demonstrated that cannabis is a vasodilator, widening blood vessels, easing the blockages resulting from a build-up of sickle cells. You won’t get diarrhoea, dizziness, hair loss and all those other things, either.

Studies to support this proposition

Support came from a study of mice published by Blood, the journal of the American Association of Hematology. And there was another study of 58 people in 2018 that found 42 percent had used cannabis within the last two years because it improved their situation with anxiety, appetite, pain and sleep. 79 percent of those studied took less pain medications thanks to cannabis.

How to take it

Smoking cannabis in this instance produces effects rapidly, but consuming edibles will have longer-lasting benefits. Topicals – that’s balms, creams, lotions, salves or whatever – target relief.

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