Sickle Cell Disease

Sickle cell anemia or sickle cell disease (SCD) is a type of anemia caused by a genetic disorder. The mutation of the hemoglobin-beta gene on chromosome 11, red blood cells become rigid and sticky, and are shaped like sickles or crescent moons. Hence the term sickle cell anemia. Because of this, the cells are not healthy enough to carry adequate oxygen throughout the body. These abnormal red blood cells get stuck in small blood vessels. This may slow down or block blood flow and oxygen to the different parts of the body.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 100,000 Americans has SCD. The disease occurs in 1 out of 365 African-American births and 1 out of every 16,300 Hispanic-American births.

The manifestation of symptoms vary from person to person, and might change over the course of time. Symptoms of sickle cell disease include anemia, episodes of pain, painful swelling of the hands and feet, frequent infections, delayed growth, and vision problems. SCD might cause complications such as stroke, acute chest syndrome, pulmonary hypertension, organ damage, blindness, leg ulcers, gallstone, and priapism or painful and long lasting erections.

Conventional Treatment

There is no cure for sickle cell anemia. However, treatment options are available in order to relieve pain brought about by the disease and help prevent the problems seen with it.

Bone marrow transplant

Currently, bone marrow transplant is the only treatment option that offer potential cure for the disease. This treatment options is for people who are under the age of 16 because of the increased risks for people who are beyond 16. While it holds great potential, finding bone marrow donors is often difficult and has serious risks associated with it such as graft-versus-host disease, stem cell (graft) failure, organ damage, infections, cataracts, infertility, new cancers, and even death.

Antibiotics

Doctors prescribe Penicillin to children as early as 2 months old and might continue taking the antibiotic until they’re at least 5 years old in order to help prevent infections such as pneumonia. However, it can cause children to have diarrhea, stomach cramps or bloating, upset stomach and vomiting.

Pain-relieving medications

Doctors might prescribe opioid drugs in order to relieve chronic pain caused by the disease. Usage might cause side effects such as constipation, drowsiness, nausea, and vomiting.

Hydroxyurea

Hydroxyurea works by reducing the number of painful crises caused by SCD, reducing the need for blood transfusions. However, usage might cause side effects such as nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, mouth sores, diarrhea, or constipation.

Sickle Cell Anemia and Medical Marijuana

Medical marijuana has beneficial effects such as anti-inflammatory properties, relaxation and anxiety relief.

One study shows that of Sickle Cell Anemia patients who use cannabis, about 52% use it for pain relief. Meanwhile, 39% said it was for relaxation and it helped with their anxiety and depression.