Medical marijuana use appears to be not as effective as opioids or hydroxyurea use for painful crises for patients with sickle cell disease (SCD) and even appears worse sometimes, according to a new study published in Cureus.

The authors performed a systematic review across 5 databases for studies between 2011 and 2021, searching for keywords like “marijuana” and “pain,” among others. They included studies fulfilling their inclusion criteria by at least 60%, language in English, and having patients 18 years and older.

A little more than 10,000 studies appeared through the database search with specific keywords. After applying the eligibility criteria and the quality assessment, there were only 11 and 7 articles, respectively.

Furthermore, from the 7 articles included, there was a systematic review, a randomized controlled trial, and 5 observational studies. All these studies had aspects like direct marijuana effects on patients with SCD and frequency of hospitalizations due to painful crises.

“While all selected articles shared the common objective to study the relationship between marijuana and pain in SCD patients, the number of participants, demographics, and criteria for the studies all differed,” the authors note.

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The authors found contrasting conclusions among the studies surveyed regarding the benefit of pain for patients with SCD. In some studies, there were some benefits of using inhaled marijuana, while in other studies, the pain score, and complications like avascular necrosis, were higher. 

“Not many clinical trials were found to substantially address whether cannabis use significantly impacted improving pain relief in SCD patients,” the authors concluded.

Conversely, the authors noted that mood symptoms like anxiety were among the most common use for inhaled marijuana after pain. Some studies which addressed this topic showed no difference in pain scores but a substantial improvement in the moods of patients experiencing chronic pain.

Further studies should focus on long-term marijuana users and the impact on their overall pain crises before suggesting a definitive conclusion, the authors said. Similarly, exploring the cognitive and mood effect of marijuana in patients with chronic pain could also be a compelling research area for the near future.


Paulsingh C, Mohamed M, Elhaj M, et al. The efficacy of marijuana use for pain relief in adults with sickle cell disease: a systematic reviewCureus. Published online May 13, 2022. doi:10.7759/cureus.24962