North Carolina Senate Passes Extensive Medical Cannabis Bill
by Bethan Rose
On the 17th of July this year, a new study provides results which display cannabis as a safe and effective treatment for those with chronic pain from sickle cell disease. The study can be found published in the JAMA Network Open and was led by Kalpna Gupta (University of California Irvine) and Dr. Donald Abrams (University of California San Francisco).
Kalpna Gupta is a professor of medicine with the faculty of UCI’s center for the Study of Cannabis. Gupta stated that the results for the study showed that vaporized cannabis was safe to use and that the study also suggested it would be useful in mitigating pain. Gupta also hopes that cannabis and the research can help address the public health opioid crisis, however larger scale research and more participants are necessary in order to get a better, more concise, understanding of how cannabis can be used for pain before it can completely replace opioids.
Opioids are primarily used to treat chronic and acute pain caused by sickle cell disease, but opioids are also addictive and has managed to be the cause of many deaths. As a result, doctors are prescribing less opioids, which takes away from sickle cell disease patients’ options for treatment.
Sickle cell disease is an inherited disorder. It negatively impacts the molecule in red blood that delivers oxygen to cells all over the body. This molecule is called the hemoglobin and individuals suffering from this disease have the atypical molecule called the hemoglobin S. This atypical hemoglobin molecule can distort the red blood cells so that they look like a crescent shape or a sickle. The sickling of the red blood cells means that those cells break down prematurely and then result in anemia. These blood cells also become stiff and inflexible which can cause the individual a lot of pain when it gets stuck in smaller blood vessels… which can then lead to organ damage as the organs are unable to get oxygen-rich blood.
Common characteristics of this disease can be present from a young age and can include a low count of red blood cells, repeated infections as well as intermittent episodes of pain which can all range in severity depending on the person. These characteristics of the disease can be so severe that an individual is frequently hospitalized.
What causes sickle cell disease? Simply put, sickle cell disease is caused by mutations in the HBB gene which is what provides the instructions for making beta-globin, a protein.
Gupta and Abrams’ study was conducted as a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized trial. This basically means that it was a clinical trial where neither the patient nor the researchers knew which participants were being administered a placebo or which was getting the actual treatment. A placebo is a substance that is classified as inactive since it shouldn’t cause any effect. This study obtained cannabis from the National Institute on Drug Abuse which contained equal parts THC and CBD.
There were 23 participants suffering from sickle cell disease-related pain, who completed the trial. Each participant was inhaling vaporized cannabis or a vaporized placebo during two periods of 5 days each. The periods were separated by 30 days in order to allow the participants to act as a control group on their own.
The patients pain levels were assessed by the researches throughout the entire treatment periods and it found that the effectiveness of cannabis as a pain-alleviator increased over time. The results displayed that the participants receiving the actual treatment, cannabis vaporizer, had results with lowered pain during activities such as walking as well as reporting lowered pain effects on their mood. However, Gupta reported that the difference was not statistically significant, despite having a winner.
Gupta then goes on to state, “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. This trial opens the door for testing different forms of medical cannabis to treat chronic pain.”
The conclusion of the study is that cannabis vaporizer is safe and potentially effective in the treatment of the chronic pain that is associated with sickle cell disease. Gupta and Abram stated that there needs to be more research for a more concise understanding but that there’s a lot of promise. After all, the benefits of using cannabis to manage pain is the number one reason cited for turning to cannabis consumption.
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