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abstracts & posters

Daily users of marijuana with sickle cell disease report more severe pain crisis yet have similar rates of admission to non-users

key information

source: American Society of Hematology

year: 2017

authors: Susanna A Curtis, Michelle Deveaux, Daniel Zelterman, Lesley Devine, Amanda M. Brandow, John D. Roberts


Introduction: Pain in sickle cell disease (SCD) starts as episodes of recurrent pain and progresses to chronic pain with age. Pain is typically treated with opioids which are often insufficient. One reason for this may be that opioids likely do not effectively treat neuropathic or inflammatory pain in SCD. Cannabinoids, such as marijuana, alleviate neuropathic pain and reduce inflammation. Our SCD patients report marijuana improves their pain and studies in murine models of SCD show cannabinoids reduce mast cell activation, inflammation, and hyperalgesia. Medical marijuana is now legal in 28 states and 4 of them list SCD as a qualifying condition. However, there are minimal data on the use of marijuana in SCD. Thus, we performed a pilot study of adults with SCD who use daily marijuana. Our hypothesis was that daily marijuana users would have worse pain scores from non-daily users which drives their drug use. Our secondary hypotheses were that daily marijuana users may have decreased levels of opioid use, hospital utilization, quality of life measures (QoL) or inflammation.

Results: We enrolled 29 subjects,16 (55%) of whom reported marijuana use in the past 30 days and of those 6 (21%) reported daily marijuana use. Pain relief was endorsed as a reason for marijuana use in 93% of users and 100% of daily users. There was no difference in mean age (32.0 SD 8.6 vs 32.4 SD 12.6 years p=1.0) or gender (% female: 67 vs 52% p=0.7) between groups. Daily marijuana users had higher pain crisis severity scores (61.7 vs 50.0 p=0.03). There was no significant difference in scores for pain crisis frequency, pain interference, or other QoL measures (Table). Daily users had similar median annual admissions and emergency room visits to non-daily users (1.0 (IQR 0.25-1.0) vs 2.0 (IQR 0 – 5.0) admissions p=0.3; 1.0 (IQR 0.25-1.75) vs 0 (IQR 0-1.5) ED visits p=0.6) and used similar doses of weekly opioids (274.5 [IQR 91.5-3447.9] vs 28.6 [IQR 3.03-135.6] mg weekly po morphine equivalents p=0.5). There were no differences in CRP, CBC, CECs or EPCs, or in levels of all neutrophils and monocytes types.

Conclusion: In our pilot study, we found daily marijuana users reported more severe pain crisis, but had similar rates of hospital utilization and similar amounts of opioids dispensed. We posit that patients with more severe pain crisis may use daily marijuana to effectively treat their pain allowing them to have similar hospital and opioid utilization to those with less severe pain. Larger prospective studies should be performed to test these hypotheses.

organization: Yale University, New Haven; Yale University, Cheshire; Yale School of Public Health, New Haven

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