Marijuana Use Prevalent Among Sickle Cell Patients

Thursday, 01 February 2007

Kingston, Jamaica: Marijuana smoking is far more prevalent among Jamaicans suffering from sickle cell disease (SCD) than among the general population, according to survey data published in the current issue of the West Indian Medical Journal.

Investigators at the University of the West Indies in Kingston surveyed the cannabis smoking habits of 145 men and women with SCD. Researchers questioned patients' use patterns in 2000 and then conducted a follow up survey in 2004.

Among those surveyed in 2004, 19 percent of women and 65 percent of men with SCD reported smoking cannabis. By contrast, among the Jamaican population, only ten percent of women and 37 percent of men report having ever smoked marijuana.

Though Jamaicans with SCD used cannabis in greater numbers, authors did not attribute this increase exclusively to symptom management noting that only six percent of those surveyed associated their usage with combating the disease. "There was no suggestion that smokers and non-smokers had different pain profiles ... [and] there was little difference between smokers and non-smokers in the median number of pain events," authors concluded.

Investigators did not assess whether there existed a possible link between the frequency of cannabis use and the amelioration of SCD complications among those surveyed.

Anecdotal reports of SCD patients using cannabis therapeutically have been noted in the scientific literature. Most recently, a study published in the British Journal of Haematology found that 36 percent of SCD patients reported having used cannabis in the past 12 months to relieve symptoms of the disease including pain, anxiety, and depression.

Sickle cell disease is a chronic condition that targets the body's red blood cells and is characterized by episodic pain in the joints, fever, leg ulcers, and jaundice, among other symptoms. In the United States, SCD affects about one in 650 African Americans and about half as many Latin Americans.

For more information, please contact Paul Armentano, NORML Senior Policy Analyst, at (202) 483-5500. Full text of the study, "The prevalence of marijuana smoking in young adults with sickle cell disease: a longitudinal study," appears in the West Indian Medical Journal.