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Sickle Cell Anemia and CBD Oil: Effects on Pain & the Immune System

One hundred thousand Americans are estimated to suffer from sickle cell anemia (the most common form of sickle cell disease). As an inherited disease, this condition occurs when a child receives the trait from both parents.

The only definitive cure for SCA is a bone marrow transplant; however, these are both difficult to obtain because of the specific HLA typing necessary as well as risky. Fortunately, when bone marrow transplants are not an option, CBD may alleviate some of the issues resulting from SCA.

Sickle cell anemia can affect daily life in a number of ways. Symptoms can include a fast heart rate, slow growth, dizziness, tiredness, irritability, and increased infection risk among children. CBD oil may be able to manage these symptoms, improving the efficacy of medical interventions and making life more livable.

Benefits of Using CBD Oil for Sickle Cell Anemia

Using CBD oil for sickle cell anemia is not a cure. Instead, it may offer a way to make the condition more bearable.

A 2010 research study found that cannabinoids, including cannabidiol (CBD), help to treat the severe pain associated with sickle cell disease in mice. The pain relief benefit of CBD for sickle cell anemia is important, especially for patients concerned about becoming addicted to traditional pain medication.

CBD oil may present a pain relief option that is easier to tolerate than traditional medical treatments. If you’re considering using CBD oil alone or in conjunction with your current sickle cell anemia medication, speak with your doctor first, and keep the following chart handy.

Common Medication for Sickle Cell Anemia Potential Side Effects of Medication for Sickle Cell Anemia Potential Benefits of CBD Oil for Sickle Cell Anemia Potential Side Effects of Combining CBD Oil w/ Sickle Cell Medication
Penicillin Nausea; vomiting; diarrhea; abdominal pain; upset stomach; rash; itching; hives. CBD oil has been shown to fight bacteria without causing these same side effects. There are no known side effects of using CBD oil with Penicillin but that does not mean they do not exist.  Always consult your doctor before using CBD oil.
Hydroxyurea (Droxia; Hydrea) Nausea; vomiting; upset stomach; diarrhea; constipation; hair loss; flu-like symptoms; increased risk of infection. CBD oil has been shown to reduce pain without causing these same side effects. There are no known side effects of using CBD oil with Hydroxyurea but that does not mean they do not exist.  Always consult your doctor before using CBD oil.
NSAIDs Stomach pain; heartburn; risk of stomach ulcer; headache; dizziness; liver and kidney problems; ringing in the ears. CBD oil has been shown to reduce pain without causing these same side effects. Using CBD oil with NSAIDs like ibuprofen can increase the risk of liver damage.  Always consult your doctor before using CBD oil.
Codeine Dizziness; drowsiness; sedation; lightheadedness; nausea; vomiting; shortness of breath; constipation; addiction risk. CBD oil has been shown to reduce pain without causing these same side effects. Using CBD oil with Codeine can cause an increased likelihood of experiencing dizziness; drowsiness; confusion.  Always consult your doctor before using CBD oil.
Morphine Dizziness; drowsiness; constipation; headaches; nausea; vomiting; dry mouth; confusion; loss of appetite. CBD oil has been shown to reduce pain without causing these same side effects. Using CBD oil with morphine can cause an increased likelihood of experiencing dizziness; drowsiness; confusion.  Always consult your doctor before using CBD oil.

The side effects of treatment for sickle cell anemia can be disruptive at best and debilitating at worst. Given that CBD oil doesn’t carry the same level of risk, it makes sense that people are turning to it in ever-growing numbers.

Effectiveness of Using CBD Oil for Sickle Cell Anemia

The use of CBD oil for sickle cell disease has been the subject of a handful of studies. In most instances, the research focuses on the pain-relieving properties of cannabidiol (CBD).

CBD Oil for Pain Relief

CBD oil is becoming a go-to for pain relief because, unlike other pain medications, it does not have any intoxicating or habit-forming effects. As a result, patients are much less likely to become addicted to, or misuse, CBD oil.

According to Harvard University, “CBD inhibits inflammatory and neuropathic pain, two of the most difficult types of chronic pain to treat,” making it an ideal option for the severe pain associated with sickle cell anemia.

Nerve pain is something commonly experienced by individuals with sickle cell anemia. CBD oil may be quite effective at relieving this type of pain. Glycine receptors are inhibitory receptors located throughout the central nervous system. These receptors play a central role in the perception of nerve pain in particular. Studies have indicated that CBD can potentiate, or increase the effects of, these receptors, reducing the severity of nerve pain.

In a 2016 study, cannabinoid receptors were found to play a role in the experience of pain specifically associated with sickle cell anemia. Chronic hyperalgesia, or pain sensitivity, is a common experience for people with sickle cell anemia. In sickle cell mice, researchers tested the cannabinoid receptor agonist CP55,940 to see if it could relieve pain in a way that would mimic the effects of cannabinoids like CBD. It was found that daily dosing of CP55,940 “significantly reduced deep tissue, mechanical and thermal hyperalgesia in sickle mice.”

By further examining which receptors participated in this response, it was discovered that both CB1 and CB2 receptors can be used to treat different types of pain. For chronic and acute pain, activating the CB1 receptor can reduce hyperalgesia, while CB2 may contribute to pain reduction by modulating the inflammatory properties of sickle cell anemia.

Mast cell activation, indicated by increased dorsal blood flow and neurogenic inflammation, is common in sickle cell anemia. In this same study, it was found that sickle cell mice treated with the cannabinoid receptor agonist showed a decrease in dorsal blood flow as soon as 1 hour after injection, and mast cell activation was decreased 40% compared to the control group.

By decreasing the activation of mast cells, CP55,940 reduced inflammation and the sickling of red blood cells.

Because cannabinoid receptors are involved in these processes, particularly CB1 and CB2 receptors, it may be possible to use phytocannabinoids like THC and CBD to reduce pain associated with sickle cell disease.

CBD Oil and the Immune System

Although SCA is primarily a blood disorder, people with SCA also struggle with immature or compromised immune systems. In fact, as children, people with sickle cell anemia are at an increased risk of infections and pneumonia. This increased infection risk can lead to a whole host of other illnesses and possible complications. CBD oil may be able to strengthen and support the immune system.

CBD oil’s impact on the immune system is complicated. CBD is a potent anti-inflammatory and has proven use in auto-immune disorders; however, this does not necessarily mean that it weakens the immune system. In fact, there are studies that show that it can improve the immune system. It may be that the effects of CBD on the immune system are more regulatory in nature, and that it has the potential to regulate a dysregulated immune system.

In a study performed on cancer patients, high doses of cannabinoids prompted the body to kill cancer cells through a process called apoptosis. This type of cell death happens naturally in a healthy, normally functioning immune system. The ways in which cannabinoids and CBD could cause this response are still under investigation but the ability to prevent infectious cells from spreading can play a significant role in combating infection.

It is worth noting that CBD oil has exhibited antibacterial and antimicrobial properties as well.

A 2008 study examined a number of cannabinoids, including THC and CBD, against 6 strains of antibiotic-resistant MRSA. All of the cannabinoids showed “potent activity” against the bacterium causing the researchers to conclude that cannabinoids like CBD may be useful in treating resistant bacteria.

The National Yang-Ming University School of Medicine, Taiwan, explored the use of CB2 agonists, like CBD, in rats with bacterial peritonitis. Their study indicated that using CBD “decreased bacterial overgrowth/adhesion.”

How To Use CBD Oil for Sickle Cell Anemia

Before you decide to use CBD oil for sickle cell anemia, you should first talk to a doctor. CBD oil has a good safety profile and has a low risk of side effects but it can interact with some common medications so it is best to make sure that it is the safest option for you before you begin.

There are lots of different ways to use CBD oil, so you should be able to find one that feels convenient and comfortable for you.

CBD oil edibles or capsules may be a great place to start. CBD capsules will provide a consistent dose every time, so they can easily be worked into a daily wellness regimen. The onset of effects from CBD edibles or capsules will depend on your metabolism and how much food is already in your stomach. With these formats, CBD must be processed through the digestive system and pass through the liver before being absorbed into the bloodstream. This process could take upwards of an hour, but the duration of effects can last up to 6 hours.

Many people choose CBD tinctures or drops for daily use because they work relatively quickly, last for up to 4 hours, are discreet, and allow for easy dose control. Administered under the tongue through a dropper, the CBD is absorbed through the mouth, showing effects within 30 minutes. And with the dropper, it is easy to adjust the dose up or down should you require extra symptom relief.

For the relief of sudden pain symptoms, many people choose to go with a CBD vape oil or CBD flower. With these formats, CBD is absorbed through the lungs and takes effect in a matter of minutes. These effects are short-lived, however, often disappearing within an hour. The quick onset makes these formats useful when symptoms need to be addressed immediately.

Finally, CBD oil topicals and transdermal patches may be effective for relieving localized nerve pain. While these methods are slower to take action, they do provide the longest-lasting relief. Topicals can last 5 hours or more while transdermal patches can last from 24 to 48 hours. The advantage of using a CBD topical comes from the ability to target the relief—simply apply to the site of pain and wait. Transdermal patches are a good “set it and forget it” method of CBD administration, however, because their effects are so long-lasting, they may not be best for first-time CBD users.

CBD Oil Dosage for Sickle Cell Anemia

There is no single ideal dose of CBD oil for sickle cell anemia. How your body response to CBD will depend on a number of factors like height, weight, and metabolism.

Unless your doctor suggests otherwise, always start with the lowest recommended dose listed on your CBD product. Starting slowly with any new substance is a good idea. Once you get a sense of how you will respond, you can adjust your dosage up if needed.

If you still need some guidance, at CBD Oil Review, we have analyzed hundreds of products and come up with the following:

The CBD Oil Review Serving Standard is 25mg of CBD taken twice daily

If the desired results are not found at this amount, increase the amount by 25mg every 3 to 4 weeks until you find the effects you were after.

For more guidance on selecting the right dosage read our CBD oil dosage guide. Or, for the most personalized CBD dosage advice, consider speaking with a naturopathic doctor.

The Best CBD Oil for Sickle Cell Anemia

The best CBD oil for sickle cell anemia will be the CBD oil that works best for you. To help you narrow down your search and find the right product, you will need to know what to look for.

Here are some tips to help you choose the safest and most effective CBD oil products on the market:

  • Read the ingredients.  CBD oil does not require a laundry list of ingredients to be effective. Look for a CBD product sourced from organic hemp that includes only natural additional ingredients like essential oils for flavor, and a carrier oil (e.g. hempseed oil or coconut oil). Avoid anything with artificial additives.
  • Check the THCl.  Under federal law, CBD oil must have a THC concentration of 0.3% or less.
  • BUT
  • , in states with access to recreational or medical cannabis, it may be possible to buy a CBD product with a higher THC concentration. Understand the cannabis laws in your state before you make a purchase. It is also important to check the THC content if you are hoping to avoid intoxication.
  • Read the Certificate of Analysis.  Most brands will lab test their products and post the results in a Certificate of Analysis (COA). A COA can help you verify the THC and CBD concentrations listed on the label, while also indicating any potential contaminants and heavy metals that may have made their way into the final product.

While the research into the potential uses of CBD oil continues, it appears that it could be helpful in relieving some of the symptoms of sickle cell anemia. If you want to try CBD oil to reduce pain and support the immune system, talk to your doctor.

+ 8 sources


  1. Divyanshoo R Kohli et al. (2010) Pain-related behaviors and neurochemical alterations in mice expressing sickle hemoglobin: modulation by cannabinoids - National Library of Medicine https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20304807/
  2. Peter Grinspoon (2020) Cannabidiol (CBD)-what we know and what we don't - The President and Fellows of Harvard College https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/cannabidiol-cbd-what-we-know-and-what-we-dont-2018082414476
  3. Amanda M. Brandow et al. (2013) Neuropathic Pain in Patients with Sickle Cell Disease - National Center for Biotechnology Information https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4357477/
  4. Wei Xiong et al. Cannabinoids suppress inflammatory and neuropathic pain by targeting α3 glycine receptors - National Center for Biotechnology Information https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3371734/
  5. Lucile Vincent et al. Cannabinoid receptor-specific mechanisms to alleviate pain in sickle cell anemia via inhibition of mast cell activation and neurogenic inflammation - National Center for Biotechnology Information https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5004356/
  6. M Guzmán et al. Control of the cell survival/death decision by cannabinoids - National Library of Medicine https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11269508/
  7. Giovanni Appendino et al. (2008) Antibacterial Cannabinoids from Cannabis sativa: A Structure−Activity Study - ACS Publications https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/np8002673
  8. Ying-Ying Yang et al. (2014) Long-term cannabinoid type 2 receptor agonist therapy decreases bacterial translocation in rats with cirrhosis and ascites - National Library of Medicine https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24953022/

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