Alternative Treatments

How bad is smoking marijuana for a sickle patient?


Marijuana can help with pain control in patients with sickle cell disease and other chronic pain syndromes.  There are a lot of side effects that occur with marijuana, you should be aware of them if you are going to use marijuana, just like you should know the side effects of other drugs prescribed by a doctor.  Loss of certain types of memory can be distressing for some people.


Smoking marijuana is about as dangerous (so ingest it don’t smoke it) as smoking tobacco.  There is more ammonia and hydrogen cyanide in marijuana than there is in tobacco smoke (not all studies get the same results) and there is about the same amount of “tar” in marijuana smoke as in tobacco smoke.  Like tobacco, there are carcinogens in marijuana smoke (cancer causing chemicals).  So, basically, it is BAD to smoke marijuana.


Lung disease, like asthma, is more common in African Americans in general and in people with sickle cell disease in particular.  Putting any kind of smoke in your lungs cannot be good.  I would strongly recommend not smoking marijuana (or tobacco or anything else) if you have sickle cell disease and even if you don’t have sickle cell disease.  If this medication works for you, you should using it in some other form than smoke.


Whether or not you have been smoking you should have pulmonary function testing to make sure you have normal lung function if you have sickle cell disease and have treatment if you don’t.



Are they doing research on how Sickle Cell Disease patients can have pain relief in a natural way without opiates and narcotics? These very things that help with the pain are also slowly kill us!


There are a lot of side effects to opioids that can be serious if you take them every day, otherwise taking opioids occasionally for pain is safe. (The basic opioid comes from a poppy, that is pretty natural.  Synthetic opioids are made to work the same, but are not from a plant.) Occasionally is the key, like a couple of times a month or less. See some of the answers to questions like yours on the site.


Except for a stem cell transplant (bone marrow transplant) there is no 100% way you can have no pain.


Hydroxyurea is not “a natural way” to help with pain, but it does.  You have to decide which is worse: having pain and taking pain medication or taking hydroxyurea.  Hydroxyurea does more that decrease pain.  It is a safe medicine if you under the care of a doctor who knows how to prescribe it and makes sure you are on a dose that is safe for you.


There will be other medications that will be available in the future, but they are not “natural” either.


There is an amino acid that helps with pain: glutamine.  This is a naturally occurring amino acid that is used by your body for many functions, including making proteins.  It is also an anti-oxidiant, and that is the function that makes it helpful in sickle cell disease.  It is not 100% effective and is most effective in people who take hydroxyurea or are children.  Don’t run down to the health food store and buy a bottle, the glutamine that works is pharmaceutical grade L-glutamine.  Not something sold in a health food store or pharmacy.


There are naturally occurring plants in Nigeria that seem to be helpful in pain management (see the answer about this medication on the site).  It is not available in the US and the production has been taken over by the government in Nigeria, so it is not generally available.


So what can you do?  You can generally take care of yourself.  Have a good diet, don’t eat “junk” food, eat real food you prepare yourself so you know what you are eating.  Drink a lot of fluids (not sugar drinks), water is the best.  Get exercise (there is evidence this helps people with sickle cell disease) in moderation.  You can take vitamins: vitamin D can reduce pain in sickle cell disease, zinc helps your immune system.


My advice: DO NOT spend a lot of money on stuff you see online! Really!  There is usually no explanation as to why some magic drops or powder works.  Generally you cannot even find out what it is made of.


If you eat a good diet with a lot of vegetables and other good stuff, take vitamins (not iron) and drink a lot of water, more when you exercise; you will feel better.


It also helps to feel good about yourself.  It is nice to have a counselor, social worker, or an understanding friend, family member, or other person to talk to about how it feels to have sickle cell disease.



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