Susanna Curtis, MD of Yale School of Medicine and Yale Cancer Center speaks about the Study: Medical Marijuana Associated with Fewer Hospitalizations for Individuals Living with Sickle Cell Disease.
According to a new report in Blood Advances, WASHINGTON, Aug. 13, 2020, /PRNewswire/ — Individuals with sickle cell disease ( SCD) who are obtaining medical marijuana to relieve pain may need less hospital visits. SCD adults who sought and received medicinal marijuana were less often admitted to the hospital than those who did not receive it.
In the United States, SCD is the most prevalent hereditary red blood cell disease, affecting an estimated 100,000 individuals. SCD affects one out of every 365 Black or African American births and one out of every 16,300 Hispanic-American births, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Abnormal, sickle-shaped red blood cells that can bind to and obstruct blood vessels are characterized by SCD, preventing oxygen from reaching the tissues. When this happens, people living with SCD experience serious episodes of pain that can cause them to seek emergency treatment. It is estimated that each year there are more than 100,000 hospital stays linked to SCD in the United States.
There is a need for other pain relief options so that people with SCD do not have to go through the hospitalization period, hardship, and cost, and can treat their symptoms at home. Previous studies have shown that other diseases, such as cancer, can successfully treat chronic pain associated with cannabis and cannabinoid products. There is also a need for more standardized trials of marijuana to relieve pain in SCD.
Dr. Curtis and her team analyzed data from 50 individuals with SCD who were approved for medical marijuana use at the Adult Sickle Cell Program at Yale New Haven Hospital. Of those approved, 29 had received medicinal cannabis and 21 had not. In the following six months, those who received medical marijuana visited the hospital less often, on average. Many patients have also reduced their hospital admission rates by 3, 4, or 5 visits. An improvement in emergency room or infusion center visits, overall health care use or opioid use was not correlated with accessing medical marijuana. In persons who did not receive medical marijuana, researchers did not find any improvement in hospitalization rates.
The researchers also wanted to explain why many patients were unable to access medical marijuana, and why, after receiving medical marijuana, some continued to use illegal cannabis occasionally. Individuals who received medical marijuana reported in a survey that they felt it was safer than illegal marijuana and felt it was effective in managing their pain, but they also reported obstacles such as higher prices and access difficulties.
Legal and medical problems are often posed by cannabis and cannabinoid items. Although 33 states have medical marijuana laws, SCD is identified as a qualifying condition by just five of those states. In their chemical content and modes of administration, medical marijuana products differ greatly. In the study, edible products were more likely to be used by patients who received medicinal marijuana than inhaled products. The pain-relieving effect of edible products has a slower onset but a longer duration than that of inhaled products, previous research indicates. For patients trying to control their symptoms, this variety between various products may cause difficulties.