Anemia affects about a third of the global population. It’s the most common blood disorder with iron deficiency being the number one cause.
Anemia is more common in women than men, while pregnant women, children and the elderly are especially vulnerable groups. Children and the elderly are particularly susceptible to anemia caused by iron deficiency.
There are certain types of treatment depending on the type of anemia, but not all are effective long-term. Marijuana is in the early stages of research for its effects on anemic patients.
Let’s explore this condition in more detail, and see if there is a beneficial connection between marijuana and anemia.
What is Anemia
Anemia is a condition where the blood lacks enough red cells or hemoglobin to meet one’s physiological needs.
Blood consists of four main components: plasma, red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Red blood cells or erythrocytes contain hemoglobin, an iron-containing protein responsible for transferring oxygen through the body.
The normal amount of red cells and hemoglobin varies depending on age, sex, body constitution (especially height), and pregnancy status.
Having anemia means that the blood lacks the ability to carry adequate amounts of oxygen to tissues.
Types of Anemia
There are more than 400 types of anemia. They are divided into groups based on their cause (1):
- Anemia caused by blood loss
- Anemia caused by decreased or faulty red blood cell production
- Anemia caused by the destruction of red blood cells
Some types are more severe than others, and anemia can be a long term or temporary condition.
Anemia caused by blood loss can happen in the following cases: injuries, surgeries, gastrointestinal conditions (ulcers, gastritis, cancer), excessive menstrual bleeding, to name just a few.
Red blood cells can experience rupture or be too fragile due to some genetic conditions, like sickle cell anemia, or infections like malaria. It can also be a secondary symptom in cancer patients.
The more common types of anemia are those caused by decreased red blood cell production. These include:
- Iron deficiency
- Vitamin deficiency (B-12, C, or folic acid)
- Bone marrow or stem cell problems
- Other conditions or diseases
The production of red blood cells starts in bone marrow from stem cells. The stem cells that reside in the bone marrow are transformed into blood stem cells. Bone marrow can fail to make this transformation in many different ways, one of them being aplastic anemia – the lack of production of all types of blood cells, not only erythrocytes.
Some chronic diseases can cause anemia of inflammation, also called anemia of chronic disease. This type of anemia is caused by the underlying conditions, usually when there are not enough hormones that take part in red blood cell production. These chronic conditions are (2):
Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia. It is responsible for more than half of the recorded cases of anemia worldwide. It occurs due to insufficient iron, which usually happens because of one of the following reasons:
- Blood loss
- Insufficient dietary iron intake
- Poor absorption of iron
If the anemia is too mild and developing over a longer period of time, it can be present without any symptoms. In other cases, the signs and symptoms vary depending on the type of anemia. However, most types of anemia have the following symptoms in common:
- Pale skin
- Unusual tiredness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Short breath
- Heart palpitations
The abovementioned symptoms are all seen in iron deficiency anemia, but there are some symptoms associated with specific types of anemia. Patients suffering from sickle cell anemia can also experience delayed growth or development in the early years, recurrent infections, as well as abdominal or chest pain.
The treatment of anemia depends on the specific type of anemia and its cause.
Iron deficiency anemia is treated with iron supplements and a high intake of iron-rich foods like red meat, broccoli, spinach, and legumes.
When it comes to other types of anemia, like thalassemia, an inherited blood disorder, the treatment may include regular blood transfusions, folic acid supplementation, as well as spleen removal, and bone marrow transplantation, in more severe cases.
Aplastic anemia is similar in treatment to the above-mentioned type. The usual treatment includes blood transfusions and bone marrow (also called stem cell) transplants.
For patients who, for some reason, can’t undergo bone marrow transplant, the usual solution is immunosuppressants. This is usually the case when aplastic anemia is a secondary disease caused by an autoimmune disorder, as well as in older patients.
Though this treatment is effective in treating the symptoms, it also weakens the immune system, has many side effects, and it’s not a long-term solution. The symptoms come back as soon as the patient stops taking the therapy.
Marijuana and Anemia
Though the cardiovascular actions of cannabinoids and endocannabinoids have been extensively explored in the past couple of decades, research on (endo)cannabinoids and blood is in the early stages (3).
What do we know so far?
After dozens of studies, the endocannabinoid system has been established as a scientific fact. Based on current research, we can conclude that:
- The endocannabinoid system takes part in regulating the immune system
- Cannabinoids have anti-inflammatory properties, as well as positive effects on pain
The effects of cannabinoids on some types of anemia, like sickle cell anemia, have been explored on mice. Researchers were examining the effects of cannabinoids on pain-related behavior in mice with human sickle hemoglobin. They discovered that cannabinoids can reduce pain (4).
At the moment there is no research on people who explore the treatment of anemia with medical marijuana.
However, one anonymous questionnaire study in London explored the use of cannabinoids in sickle cell anemia patients. The patients were taking a self-administered questionnaire to provide a guarantee of anonymity since cannabis is not legal in the United Kingdom. The results showed that 36% have used cannabis to relieve symptoms of sickle cell anemia in the past year (5).
Since the legal status of marijuana is changing for the better, we can expect more scientific insights into cannabinoids’ role in treating these medical conditions.
In the meantime, cannabis can be used for alleviating the symptoms of anemia.
Best Strains for Pain
Marijuana can be used as a symptom reliever, especially since many states have included chronic pain as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana. This is especially helpful for patients with sickle cell anemia. Cannabinoids can be beneficial in this case because the pain in sickle cell anemia patients is initiated by inflammation. Here are some of the best strains for pain relief:
- Sensi Star is an earthy indica strain for late night consumption. It relieves stress, pain, and insomnia.
- Henik (Alien Dog) is a hybrid strain with high levels of THC. It has flowery flavor and can be consumed throughout the day. It relieves stress and will leave you feeling relaxed and happy.
- Sachigo (Sour Kush) is another hybrid high in THC. It’s best for depression, stress, and pain relief.
Best Strains for Fatigue
If you are experiencing problems with fatigue, sativa strains are the way to go. They are energizing and stimulating and should be consumed during the day. Some of the best strains for fatigue are:
- Delahaze is a strain perfect for awakening your body. This citrus-flavored strain will make you feel energetic and uplifted.
- Houndstooth has a citrusy and spicy pine-like aroma. If you are looking for an interesting combination of flavors, this is the way to go.
- Ultra Sour is a woody and citrusy sativa strain for a good mood. It leaves you feeling happy, euphoric, and relaxed at the same time.
Best Strains to Stay Focused
If anemia is making it hard for you to concentrate and keep on track, there are strains to help you out with that. Some of the best strains for staying focused are:
- Jacky White is a high-THC sativa strain with a sweet, earthy and tropical aroma. The typical effects are feeling creative, focused and relaxed.
- CBD Skunk Haze is a spicy and buttery hybrid with a 1:1 ratio of THC and CBD. It relieves stress and makes you feel relaxed, focused and energized.
- Spoetnik #1 is a strain with woody and pine-like flavor. If you want to feel euphoric, but at the same time relaxed and focused, then this is the one for you.
If you haven’t found your perfect match, or you’re just a bit more curious, you can use Strainblazer, our strain recommendation tool, to discover more strains on the market.
How to consume marijuana?
Since dizziness is one of the most common symptoms of patients with anemia, you should probably stay away from smoking and vaping. This doesn’t mean you have to stay away from marijuana completely.
Luckily, there are other ways to get cannabinoids into your system. These include:
- CBD oils
CBD oils can be used as sprays or drops. You can apply it to your skin topically for quick pain relief. This is the easiest way, and it doesn’t require much knowledge. However, you may need greater amounts.
Another popular way is taking CBD oil orally, by applying it under your tongue (sublingual). After applying it under the tongue, you should hold it in your mouth for half a minute and then swallow.
You can also take CBD oil by adding it to your food or drinks. It should be noted that the effects of oral consumption take time. The first effects of CBD oil usually kick in after a couple of hours, so be patient when getting started.
There are also plenty of recipes online for making marijuana edibles. You can try cupcakes, candies, cannabutter, or if you prefer marijuana-infused drinks, you can make yourself a nice cup of weed tea.
A word of advice
Always be careful with edibles. You won’t feel the effects of marijuana immediately, because the edibles usually start to kick in after 30-60 minutes. So, be patient, and don’t rush for another serving until you feel the effects of the first one.
The effects of edibles are also prolonged, lasting much longer than with smoking or vaping.
It’s important to start with small doses and introduce yourself to edibles gradually. That way you’ll be able to find your way up to the right amount for your needs. You can also download this free cannabis dosage guide to help you get started.
- Janz, T.G., Johnson, R.L., Rubenstein, S.D. (2013). Anemia in the emergency department: evaluation and treatment. Emergency Medicine Practice, 15(11), 1–15.
- Weiss, G., Goodnough, L.T. (2005) Anemia of chronic disease. N. Engl. J. Med. 352, 1011–23.
- Randall, M.D. (2007) Endocannabinoids and the haematological system. Br J Pharmacol, 152, 671–675.
- Kohli, D.R., Li, Y., Khasabov, S.G., et al. (2010) Pain-related behaviors and neurochemical alterations in mice expressing sickle hemoglobin: modulation by cannabinoids. Blood 116, 456–465.
- Howard, J., Anie, K.A., Holdcroft, A., Korn, S., Davies, S.C. (2005) Cannabis use in sickle cell disease: a questionnaire study. The British Journal of Haematology 131(1), 123–128.