Evidence based

CBD and Anemia: Current Research & Understanding

Anemia is a common medical condition involving dysfunctional red blood cells that can cause discomfort and lead to serious medical issues. But how does CBD step in to help? We investigate claims that CBD can help this condition and what we found might surprise you.

Article By
Justin Cooke , posted 1 month ago

Anemia is a common medical condition involving loss, premature breakdown, or dysfunctional manufacture of red blood cells.

It basically means we don’t have enough high-quality blood in our veins and arteries. 

There are many different types of anemia, each with its own set of treatment options, and symptoms. 

Some people have begun taking CBD oil as a treatment for their anemia. 

Here, we discuss what types of anemia CBD oil can be used for, how it works, and when CBD oil doesn’t work for this condition.

  • Table of Contents

Summarizing CBD Oil for Anemia

CBD oil is useful for many things, but it mainly works by supporting homeostasis in the body — which can be defined as a “state of balance”.

In the case of anemia, there are only a few ways that CBD oil can help; and the people with sickle cell anemia will have the most to benefit from it.

This is because one of the primary side effects of the condition is pain and inflammation as the misshapen red blood cells that get lodged in the tiny capillaries of the cardiovascular system. When this happens, it blocks blood flow from the area, causing the cells to starve for oxygen and nutrients.

This is a significant source of pain for these individuals, often prompting them to take opioids or other pharmaceutical pain medications.

CBD directly inhibits the pain associated with sickle cell anemia, and can dramatically improve the quality of life for these patients.

Red Blood Cells & Our Health

One of the most underrated cells in the body is the humble red blood cell.

They are made in the bone marrow before being released into circulation and are responsible for carrying oxygen from the lungs to every other cell in the body – and then bringing some of the CO2 produced in the organs back to the lungs for elimination.

These specialized cells are vital to our health and wellbeing. Any issues with them can leave our cells suffocating for fresh oxygen. This leaves us feeling weak, tired, pale in complexion, and lowers our ability to resist cold and flu. 

This is the main problem with anemia.

When we’re anemic, it means that our red blood cells are either misshapen, missing hemoglobin, or not abundant enough. So it’s more difficult for the body to deliver the necessary oxygen to the cells that need it.

Depending on the cause of anemia, other types of blood cells may also be affected, such as the B and T lymphocytes, monocytes, or neutrophils that make up the bulk of our immune system.

A red blood cell has a lifespan of about 90 to 120 days before it’s removed from the blood and recycled through the spleen and liver.

This means that any damage to the red blood cells could have an effect for 3 or 4 months before a new cell is produced to replace it.

This is why anemia is a long-term condition, not something that develops or clears up overnight. It often takes about 3 or 4 months of treatment to improve the condition and alleviate symptoms.

What is Hemoglobin?

The functional unit of the red blood cell is a molecule called hemoglobin. This is the part that does all the heavy lifting.

The hemoglobin molecule is basically made of protein (globin) and what is called a “heme group”, a structure that contains iron. This is the place where oxygen and carbon dioxide bind to the blood cell surface.

When hemoglobin isn’t manufactured correctly, we can end up with anemias such as sickle cell, and thalassemia.

We’ll talk more about this later.

What is Anemia?

Anemia is a condition involving insufficient or dysfunctional red blood cell production. It’s the most common blood condition in the United States, affecting roughly 5.6% of the entire population.

There are many different causes for anemia, and CBD oil is useful for some more than it is for others.

It’s important to understand what type of anemia you have.

Symptoms of Anemia

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue/tiredness
  • Frequent cold/flu infection
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Leg cramps
  • Pain in the limbs
  • Pale skin
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath

1. Anemia From Loss Of Blood

As seen previously, we need iron to build hemoglobin – the main functional unit of the red blood cell. We normally get that iron through our food, and we will lose some of it through the sweat glands and shedding skin cells. However, this loss is so small it is negligible.

The primary source of iron loss is actually through the loss of blood. Since the primary use of iron is in the form of hemoglobin in our blood, when we lose blood, we lose the iron too.

Typically, when a red blood cell wears out, we recycle the iron to make new hemoglobin. Almost none of it ever gets wasted.

Although a traumatic injury resulting in a lot of blood loss can certainly cause anemia, it’s more common for the condition to develop as a result of low-grade, chronic bleeding. This is because people who have lost a lot of blood usually end up receiving blood transfusions in the hospital, effectively replenishing the blood supply and preventing anemia.

Minor bleeding, however, often goes unnoticed, and accounts for many of the leading causes of anemia worldwide.

Some of the Most Common Examples Include:

  • Menstruation, especially if excessive bleeding is present
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding, such as ulcers, hemorrhoids, or cancer
  • NSAID medication use, a common cause of ulcers

2. Anemia Caused by Dysfunctional Red Blood Cell Production

A) Nutritional Deficiencies

Red blood cells take a lot of resources to manufacture. They’re a very complex cell, with multiple stages of development. They’re also needed in ample supplies on a near-constant basis.

If any of these resources become deficient, or any of the stages of development become impeded, red blood cell production begins to suffer.

The nutrients needed to build red blood cells include:

  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin B3
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B9

If any of these nutrients become deficient in the diet, red blood cell production will suffer.

This happens mainly due to iron and B12 deficiencies, which are common in people who eat vegetarian or vegan diets since the majority of foods that contain these nutrients are meats and other animal products.

Pernicious anemia is another related cause for anemia but relies on a condition where the body can’t produce enough intrinsic factor, which is essential for absorbing vitamin B12 from the gastrointestinal tract.

This type of anemia is treated by identifying which nutrients are deficient and adding them to the diet either through food or in supplemental form.

B) Dysfunctional Red Blood Cell Production

Sometimes there are problems in the actual production of red blood cells.

This can be the result of things like:

  • Genetically inherited disorders – such as thalassemia
  • Cancer therapy – damages the bone marrow tasked with producing red blood cells
  • Hereditary spherocytosis – genetic conditions affecting the membrane of red blood cells
  • Sickle cell anemia – misshapen hemoglobin molecules, causing distorted red blood cell shape and function

When talking about CBD oil, perhaps the most significant form of anemia is sickle cell anemia.

Sickle Cell Anemia

With this form of hereditary anemia, dysfunctional hemoglobin causes the red blood cells to develop into abnormal crescent (sickle) shapes.

This abnormality causes a set of problems starting with their function:

  1. Sickle cells don’t work as well as normal cells
  2. Sickle cells break down faster than normal cells
  3. Sickle cells get lodged in microcapillaries, causing pain and damage to the area

The condition is usually first seen in childhood.

The signs and symptoms of sickle cell anemia include:

  • Low immunity (frequent cold and flu infections)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Delayed growth development
  • Organ damage
  • Pulmonary hypertension

3. Anemia Caused by Premature Destruction of Red Blood Cells

The final category of anemia is caused by premature destruction of the red blood cells themselves.

This, of course, overlaps with some other forms, such as sickle cell anemia, which leads to a premature breakdown of the misshapen blood cells.

Some examples of anemia caused by premature red blood cell destruction include:

  • Hemolytic anemia causes excessive breakdown of red blood cells
  • Thalassemia, an inherited disorder resulting in misshapen hemoglobin molecules
  • Side effects of certain drugs such as Cephalosporins that can cause hemolytic anemia
  • Snake or spider venom, especially those containing hemolytic toxins such as cobras
  • Liver, kidney, or spleen disease

Using CBD for Anemia

So, now that we’ve covered the causes and many different types of anemia let’s get into how CBD oil can benefit anemia patients.

1. CBD Oil and Sickle Cell Anemia

One of the main symptoms of people suffering from sickle-cell anemia is the pain associated with lodgements of the misshapen red blood cells in the microcapillaries. Pain can also occur from poor oxygenation of the tissue resulting from sickle cell anemia.

In some cases, sufferers are prompted to take potent opioid painkillers to manage the pain.

These opioids are a problem over the long-term because they’re highly addictive and bring with them a wide range of negative side effects. So people are now starting to use other methods of pain management for this condition such as marijuana and CBD oil.

A questionnaire-based study done on people living with sickle cell disease involved a few questions on marijuana use and the results found that 36% of the 88 patients in the study had used marijuana to treat symptoms of the disorder.

52% of these people used it to reduce the pain associated with the condition, while 77% suggested they used it for sedation or relaxation purposes.

Another study used an animal model to look at how cannabinoids can be effective at treating the pain from sickle cell anemia. It found that the primary mechanism was through their ability to stabilize mast cells, which are one of the main drivers of inflammation and pain in the body.

In this same study, cannabinoids were also shown to reduce neuropathic (nerve-related) inflammation involved with sickle cell disease.

2. CBD Oil and Iron Deficiency Anemia

CBD itself has little effect on iron-deficient anemia; however, the hemp seed oil often used as the carrier oil in these products is naturally high in iron.

The critical thing to consider here, however, is the dosage.

Typically, the doses used for CBD oil are only a few milliliters per day. But to get the nutritional benefits of hemp seed oil for treating anemia you’d need to consume much more than that.

In 100 mL of hemp seed oil, there’s approximately 8 mg of iron.

According to the National Institute Of Health, the daily requirements for iron in adults between the ages of 19 and 50 is 8 mg/day for men, and 18 mg/day in women.

Daily Iron Requirements:

AgeMaleFemale
7-12 months11 mg11 mg
1–3 years7 mg7 mg
4–8 years        10 mg10 mg
9–13 years      8 mg8 mg
14–18 years    11 mg15 mg
19–50 years    8 mg18 mg
51+ years        8 mg8 mg

These numbers would mean we require about 100-200 mL of hemp seed oil each day.

These are maintenance doses, however – treating iron deficiency anemia is much more difficult and requires much more iron intake.

Most sources for treating iron-deficient anemia recommend taking 150-200 mg of iron each day, which is the equivalent of about 1.9 L of hemp seed oil per day.

That’s a lot of hemp oil.

According to HempOil.ca, this would cost about $50 per day in hemp oil alone and would require you to drink nearly 2000 mL of the stuff each day.

This is simply not reasonable.

Raw, unshelled hemp seeds are a little better, containing about 9.6 mg of iron per 100 g.

You would need to consume 1.5 kg of raw hemp seeds per day.

Instead, it’s probably best to stick to iron supplements and other high-concentration sources of iron, such as dark leafy vegetables, tofu, and red meat.

Summing it Up: CBD Oil for Anemia

CBD oil offers only minor improvements to most causes of anemia. Most of these benefits regard symptoms of anxiety and stress, rather than the condition itself.

The main benefit of CBD oil towards anemia comes from its ability to lower the pain and discomfort involved with a particular type of anemia, known as sickle cell anemia.

It could be used to help reduce the nerve pain involved with the condition, which is a particularly difficult type of pain to treat.

It also lowers mast cell activation, which helps reduce pain and inflammation involved with sickle cell anemia.

Other types of anemia have shown little benefit from CBD oil; however, it may be useful for secondary symptoms of the condition including mood disorders, anxiety, fatigue, and frequent infection.


References

  1. Karimi, I., Hayatghaibi, H., Yousefi, J., Saberivand, A., & Zavareh, S. (2007). The Effect of Cannabis sativa L.(Hemp Seed) on Hematological Parameters in Guinea Pigs. Cardiovascular & Haematological Disorders-Drug Targets (Formerly Current Drug Targets-Cardiovascular & Hematological Disorders), 7(4), 288-290.
  2. Howard, J., Anie, K. A., Holdcroft, A., Korn, S., & Davies, S. C. (2005). Cannabis use in sickle cell disease: a questionnaire study. British journal of haematology, 131(1), 123-128.
  3. Vincent, L., Vang, D., Nguyen, J., Benson, B., Lei, J., & Gupta, K. (2016). Cannabinoid receptor-specific mechanisms to alleviate pain in sickle cell anemia via inhibition of mast cell activation and neurogenic inflammation. Haematologica, 101(5), 566-577.

Conditions that May Respond to Cannabidiol