Few people realize that sickle cell anemia is actually one of the most common congenital disorders.
In fact, we don’t even know how many people are affected by SCA worldwide, but the number is expected to be well into the millions. At particular risk are those in sub-Saharan Africa, Southwest Asia, India, and Mediterranean countries.
Understanding Sickle Cell Anemia
Sickle cell anemia is a form of the sickle cell disease, as its name likely suggests. The disease is characterized by a crescent shape for red blood cells. As most readers probably know, red blood cells are the cells in charge of transportation of oxygen around the body.
A healthy, normal red blood cell is generally flattish and round in profile. This design allows them the flexibility to fit through tight gaps as they race around the circulatory system.
For those suffering from sickle cell disease, such cells are sickle shaped as well as highly rigid in a manner that can cause many issues.
It is actually mutation of a gene in charge of production of hemoglobin’s that is at the root cause of sickle cell anemia.
Hemoglobin is a protein in our red blood cells that binds to oxygen for transportation. The mutation involved in sickle cell disease, as noted above, produces sickle shaped, rigid, and ineffective red blood cells.
That’s why those suffering from sickle cell anemia often report dizziness, difficulty adjusting to colder temperatures, and lethargy.
For those dealing with sickle cell anemia, the defective hemoglobin, and the resultant form error and rigidity of the red blood cells, reduces the effectiveness of the cell in the transportation of oxygen. We know that much. However, there is an even bigger problem: this same condition can lead to a blockage in the capillaries as the cells pileup on one another and don’t properly fit through the tight spaces characterizing the distal regions of the circulatory system.
It’s this secondary set of symptomology that really causes the danger for sickle cell disease.
In terms of identifying the condition, because it comes down to genes, many cases are known before birth. However, to establish it for certain, doctors will simply use a blood test. Interestingly, several European countries advise couples to have an abortion when a fetus in utero is known to have this disease.
Eight out of every ten cases of sickle cell anemia occur in sub-Saharan Africa. The reason is an evolutionary one: the sickle shape of the cells actually repels malaria, and malaria is most common in sub-Saharan Africa.
Hence, over great swaths of time, individuals living in an area where a disease like malaria is highly prevalent will have a better chance of surviving and reproducing if there circulatory system is seeded with cells and resistant to the disease.
As for treatment, all we can really do at this point is seek to relieve pain through the use of opioids and morphine. However, obviously these have side effects.
Blood transfusions and bone marrow transplants are also common, but they tend to have their own list of risks and associated side effects.
At this point, there is no cure for sickle cell anemia. Ideal management of the disease will generally lead to a lifespan that is only about three quarters of a normal human lifespan in the developed world.
CBD and Sickle Cell Anemia
As noted above, there are no definite treatments for the disease, but many people have used cannabis and CBD to attempt to cope better and manage the process of dealing with sickle cell anemia.
Research has shown that CBD, in particular, normalizes immune system and nervous system disruptions, which can reduce the impact of the symptoms associated with sickle cell anemia
One recent study showed that mice affected by something similar to sickle cell anemia actually experienced less pain and less inflammation once cannabinoids receptors were properly activated.
For scientists, the conclusions from this study have powerfully shifted our understanding of this disease.
At this point, while CBD is definitely not a cure all for the sickle cell disease and sickle cell anemia, it may become more widely used in such cases and has already shown to be a valuable tool for those suffering from this terrible disease.