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For those living with constant and debilitating pain, medical marijuana can offer great relief.

The University of Pittsburgh and the medical marijuana company Parallel just announced a $3 million, 10-year partnership to study the effect of medical cannabis on sickle cell disease symptoms. Later studies will focus on generalized anxiety disorders and chronic intractable pain.

“Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana law emphasizes the need for rigorous research related to the use of medical cannabis,” says Anantha Shekhar, senior vice chancellor for health sciences and dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

“Pitt is taking a leadership role in conducting that research and we look forward to advancing the safety and efficacy of cannabis therapies via scientific rigor. Parallel’s focus on the innovation, quality, safety and consistency of its products makes them an ideal partner for Pitt’s research program.”

Parallel will provide Pitt with $3 million in unrestricted grants to explore the efficacy and safety of medical cannabis in treating sickle cell disease (SCD), a red blood cell disorder characterized by anemia and pain.

About 70,000 to 100,000 Americans have SCD, which is an inherited blood disorder. Median life expectancy is 48 for women, and 42 for men. SCD disproportionately affects African Americans.

Pitt is one of eight research universities in Pennsylvania that is allowed to conduct research into medical cannabis. Atlanta-based Parallel was granted a license to grow and process cannabis, and open six retail locations across the state.

Many people who suffer from SCD experience chronic pain. The disease is usually treated with opioids, which is often ineffective and can also have serious side effects.

“Patients with sickle cell disease and chronic pain have no real alternative to chronic opioid therapy, which has severe limitations and disadvantages,” said Laura De Castro, Pitt associate professor of medicine and director of clinical translational research for the Sickle Cell Center of Excellence. “We are proud to have this opportunity to study potential cannabis treatments for these patients who live in constant debilitating pain.”

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