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Weekly Medicinal Cannabis Research Wrap - 5/08/20

Cannabis for the Treatment of Pain in Patients with Sickle Cell Disease

Sickle cell disease (SCD) is a genetically inherited blood disorder. Typical symptoms of SCD include low red blood cell counts (anaemia), repeated infections and sporadic episodes of pain. These symptoms are caused by the distortion of red blood cells into a sickle shape. Sickle cell disease predominantly effects individuals whose ancestors come from sub-Saharan Africa and western hemisphere Spanish speaking regions. It is estimated that currently over 100,000 people suffer from SCD in the United States.

A recent pilot study (1) published in the Jama Network Journal looked at the effect of vaporised cannabis on pain management for those suffering from SCD. The current best practice for pain management for those suffering from SCD is opioids. The study involved 23 participants admitted to a clinical research centre for two separate five day stays. Over these stays the patients inhaled either vaporised cannabis (at a 1:1 THC:CBD ratio) or a vaporised cannabis placebo three times daily. The patient’s pain was assessed daily using a visual analog scale.

According to the study, when compared to the placebo, vaporised cannabis could be a potential option for the treatment of pain from SCD. Although the results from the pain scale were not significant between the placebo and active medication, there was a significant improvement in mood caused by pain interference. These results suggest cannabis as a potential treatment option however much larger clinical trials are needed.

1) Abrams DI, Couey P, Dixit N, et al. Effect of Inhaled Cannabis for Pain in Adults With Sickle Cell Disease: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(7):e2010874. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.10874

Potential for Medical Cannabis to Kill Cancer Cells

It has been known for a while that medical cannabis can provide symptomatic relief for patients suffering from cancer, from pain management to nausea control. More recently a team of researchers from the University of Newcastle and the Hunter Medical Research Institute have been investigating a modified form of medical cannabis that can kill or inhibit cancer cells without impacting the normal, healthy cells.

Lead researcher Dr. Matt Dun said the strain tested contains very high levels of CBD and less than 1% THC. The treatment method was initially tested on leukemia cells and the researchers were extremely surprised with how sensitive they were. At the same time the medical cannabis did not kill normal bone marrow cells or normal, healthy, white blood cells. After realising there was a cancer-selective mechanism involved they then spent the next couple of years trying to find the answer.

These findings suggest that a plant type with a high CBD content compared to THC has potential as a cancer treatment, with greater efficacy, lower toxicity and fewer side effects than current cancer treatment options.

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