Michigan mom’s final option for daughter’s pain was cannabis — and it worked from the Detroit Free Press
October 14, 2021
Madison Matthews was on her way home after sickle cell disease had kept her in the hospital for two months. At 12 years old, she was on six medications for pain, but it hadn’t gone anywhere. On the car ride home, Madison’s mom made the first phone call to her daughter’s final option — cannabis.
Charlotte Matthews said she had seen her daughter through many pain crises, hospitalizations, and failed regimens. A year earlier, her friend, who was working to become a certified health practitioner, recommended she look into cannabis treatment.
“I remember telling her, ‘I can’t wrap my head around this right now.’ But fast forward a year, because the regimens were not working for her, I knew I had to try something different,” Charlotte Matthews, 53, of Lansing, said.
Since starting cannabis use, Charlotte said her daughter has more energy, a bigger appetite, and has stopped needing her other pain medications, Charlotte said. Over the summer, Madison was able to get back on her bike after months, enjoy a sleepover with her best friend, and get back on track with schoolwork.
“When we brought Madison home on April 1, she was in a wheelchair… On my birthday, April 30, she ran into my arms,” Charlotte said.
Dr. Asif Alavi, assistant professor in the oncology department at Wayne State University, described sickle cell disease, or SCD, as a hematologic disorder that people are born with.
Hemoglobin in people with SCD is not as efficient at carrying oxygen. When organs are depleted of oxygen, it causes pain crises, which can occur anywhere in the body. SCD can also cause severe fatigue and mood disorders.
“The pain was one thing, but to see a child that should be out running and playing, but all they want to do is just lay around, or just be in their room by themselves — that’s not an easy task for a mother to watch,” Charlotte said.
When the cells are deprived of oxygen, they become hard and sticky, forming into a sickle shape—hence the namesake.
“Essentially, they can get damage in any organ in their body … even their skin,” Alavi said.
However, treatments for sickle cell have greatly improved in recent years Alavi said. Bone marrow transplant, which essentially replaces the cells that make red blood cells in the body, can actually cure SCD. Gene therapy is also up and coming, Alavi said, which works on the patient’s existing cells rather than replacing them with someone else’s.
Many with SCD face a shortened life expectancy, and it hurts low-income families the most, as it is an expensive disease to treat.
Sickle cell disease has also become a racially stigmatic issue, as it disproportionately affects people of color. A CDC study said that one out of every 365 Black or African-American babies have SCD, and one out of every 16,300 Hispanic-American babies have SCD.
People with sickle cell disease have turned to pain medications and blood transfusions to manage symptoms.
Alavi said that doctors’ views on opioids has changed in recent years, however.
“For a long time, they were thought to be relatively safe,” the doctor said. However, after seeing the effects that decades of opioid use has had on patients, like toxicity and complications, they have become “the less preferred option.” …
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