Marijuana use for pain relief in adults with sickle cell disease Original paper

    This systematic review found that in participants with sickle cell disease, marijuana use either worsened or did not improve pain. Overall, the effectiveness of marijuana as an analgesic for this population could not be determined, and more studies are necessary.

    This Study Summary was published on August 23, 2022.


    Sickle cell disease (SCD) originates from a mutation in the beta chain of hemoglobin that results in misshapen hemoglobin proteins. Because hemoglobin is the primary protein in red blood cells that carry oxygen, this misshapen hemoglobin protein complicates oxygen delivery to the body’s tissues in individuals with SCD. This is especially a problem in the capillaries of the lungs, where the “sickle” shape of the red blood cells can block the capillaries responsible for oxygen exchange and can complicate breathing. Systemic blockage of small vessels in the body can cause episodes of severe pain, which is a common complication of SCD.

    The study

    This systematic review included 7 studies (1 randomized controlled trial, 5 observational studies, and 1 systematic review). All of the studies assessed the effects of marijuana on pain in adult participants with SCD.

    The results

    The randomized controlled trial found an improvement in mood in participants who used marijuana compared to those who received a placebo but did not find a difference in pain between the two groups.

    Overall, the observational studies reported mixed results. One study found that medical marijuana was associated with lower hospital admission rates, whereas one study found a higher rate of hospital admissions due to pain crises. Another study found no difference based on marijuana use between participants who took hydroxyurea and those who did not (hydroxyurea is a medication used to help normalize the shape of red blood cells in people with SCD).

    The systematic review concluded that more studies are necessary to determine whether marijuana is an effective analgesic for people with SCD.

    This Study Summary was published on August 23, 2022.