Partnership will study medical marijuana for sickle cell disease, other chronic illnesses


The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Parallel, a multistate cannabis company, recently partnered to create a medical marijuana clinical research program.

Parallel, through its retail brand Goodblend, will provide the university with $3 million in unrestricted grants for the research program and will provide study participants with cannabis formulations.

Researchers will begin with the treatment of sickle cell disease (SCD) symptoms. The disease is a red-blood-cell disorder characterized by anemia. It also is characterized by an obstruction of blood vessels by rigid and adhesive red blood cells, causing pain.

The disease disproportionately affects African Americans. Approximately 100,000 Americans suffer from SCD, and approximately 15 percent suffer chronic pain.

Pain is generally treated with opioids, but opioids often fail to completely control pain, resulting in frequent hospitalizations.

Lifetime undiscounted health care costs for SCD patients can reach up to $1 million per patient.

“Patients with sickle cell disease and chronic pain have no real alternative to chronic opioid therapy, which has severe limitations and disadvantages,” said Dr. Laura DeCastro, associate professor of medicine and Sickle Cell Disease Research Center of Excellence director of clinical translational research.

Subsequent research will address chronic intractable pain generalized anxiety disorders and other chronic conditions.

The partnership is a 10-year agreement.