Sickle cell disease is a condition in which the red blood cells adopt a misshaped status as opposed to the disc shape, which accords the cells easy mobility through vessels. The sickle shaped is brought about by a gene mutation. This malformation makes it harder for the cells to travel trough the vessels. The cells also become sticky which causes them to stick to vessel walls. This then means that the red blood cells do not deliver oxygen to the intended destination. It also causes blockages in small vessels. It has been estimated that only 50% of patients with SCD make it past 50 years of age.
Usually SCD is diagnosed at a young age. The disease can only be passed on to a child if both parents carry the gene. If only parent carries the gene then the child will only be a carrier and not necessarily a sufferer. Every year, hundreds of children are born with sickle cell disease.
Sickle Cell Symptoms
One of the most common symptoms of sickle cell disease is anemia. While normal cells live for about 120 days when new ones are generated, sickle cells only live for a maximum of twenty days. This leaves the body with a shortage of red blood cells. There is also debilitating pain brought about by blocked blood flow to different parts of the body. Through the same, inflammation is also triggered. Sickle cell will damage organs such as the spleen, which is responsible for fighting off infections. This action leaves the body susceptible to infections like pneumonia. Again, due to blockage of blood flow vision will be impaired. The disease may bring about stroke, acute chest syndrome, pulmonary hypertension, organ damage, gallstones, and priapism.
CBD for SCD Pain (crises)
In 2010, an animal trial was conducted to determine the efficacy of CBD against SCD related pain. It was found that cannabinoids could help mitigate pain in mice expressed with human sickle cell hemoglobin. The study showed that CBD has a favorable safety profile for the treatment of sickle cell crises. Another study found that most SCD patients preferred cannabinoids to opioids. Opioids indicated for SCD pain have severe side effects that affect quality of life of the patients.
A questionnaire in 2005 showed that 52% of SCD patients used cannabinoids to reduce pain while another 39% used to relax and get rid of anxiety. While this is not much of a scientific backing, it goes to show how much support cannabis has in the treatment/management of SCD symptoms. It has been found to be a well-needed relief for both patients and carers.
CBD for SCD Inflammation
Patients with sickle cell suffer inflammation for two reasons. The first being poor perfusion which causes tissue damage thus triggering an inflammatory response. The immune system also views the sickle cells as irritants to the system. The inflammatory response is then triggered to fight these foreign elements. The result is swelling and severe pain.
By interacting with the CB2 receptor to trigger the endocannabinoid 2-AG the immune response is mediated. The swelling is treated with immediate effect thus relieving the patient from pain. Once the inflammation is taken care of, life as a sickle cell disease patient is better tolerated.
CBD for Osteonecrosis
When blood flow to the bone is compromised, the bone cells start to die and bone degenerates. This makes mobility difficulty and increasingly difficult. Usually, the bone can heal itself through remodeling. This process will do away with the damaged bone then replace it with a new one. However, this process requires blood, which is not exactly in plenty in the case of an SCD patient.
CBD stimulates enzymes, which are paramount to bone healing. It also improves the blood flow to the bone so that necrosis is mitigated. CBD helps the bone and joint issue by two mechanisms. The severe pain and mobility issues that could come with this problem are abated.
CBD for Other Symptoms
Many patients suffer blindness or impaired vision due to reduced blood flow to the eye. According to a study published in the Experimental Eye Research by University of Alicante researchers in Spain, CBD can slow down blindness in rats. It was found that they gained 40% more photoreceptors within 90 days. It has also been hypothesized that CBD can aid retinal regeneration. This would be incredibly useful once the blindness has already set in. However, before it does it can be prevented by having CBD ease blood flow.
Low blood flow or blockage of vessels in the penile tissue can cause a painful prolonged erection, which is unrelated to sexual excitement. This condition is called priapism. CBD would work to ease the problem by regulating better blood flow to aiding mitigation of the blockage.
CBD seeks to maintain homeostasis. If the body is experiencing a shortage of red blood cells whether the 120 days have passed or not, it will help trigger a process by which more blood cells are formed. Unlike most cells, the red blood cells do not mitochondria and CBD therefore cannot increase mitochondrial activity directly. However, in pursuit for homeostasis the necessary processes can be triggered.
Possible Cure for SCD
Through stem cell transplant, the body can be supplied with an avenue to generate new healthy cells instead of the malformed ones it is used to. This is done through bone marrow transplant but is usually only viable at very late stages of the disease. This treatment has shown a lot of promise especially in children. The issue is difficulty finding viable donors. It has also been found that some adults suffer toxicity from this form of treatment. Then there is the biggest concern of all, GVHD. This is a life threatening complication, which occurs after stem cell transplant. It occurs in at least 35% of the cases even when everything is done right.
Studies have found that CBD can modulate the immune system to reduce the risk of this. The anti-inflammatory properties also come in handy in this respect. So far, CBD is used as an adjunctive to GVHD prophylaxis and has worked well so far. There is however need for further investigation in this respect. This offers some hope that stem cell transplant could cure the disease before the condition gets too. Maybe even, transplant as soon as a child tests positive for symptomatic SCD.
Possible Death Sentence
Over the years, SCD symptoms have been managed. However, the avenues through which this is done have proved difficult on the patient’s well being. CBD offers a better and safer way to do it. Not to mention a way out of the disease completely. A significant number of SCD patients die every year from stroke and crises.
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