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The Truth About Glaucoma and Medical Marijuana

November 12, 2013

Looking closer into whether or not this medical aid can actually improve glaucoma symptoms.

Earlier this month in our first blog post for Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month, we touched on the most common vision problems that often accompany diabetic eye disease. While diabetic retinopathy and cataracts are both vision diseases that can target people with type 2 diabetes, glaucoma is another dangerous disease that can cause a loss of vision for people with diabetes and, once lost, vision cannot normally be recovered.

However, this dangerous vision problem does not just affect those with diabetes. In fact, glaucoma is the second-leading cause of blindness around the world. It affects one in 200 people aged 50 and younger, and one in 10 over the age of eighty.

Luckily, if glaucoma is detected early enough, it is still possible to slow the progression of this disease and curb common symptoms through a number of different means. While many doctors recommend tried and true medical and surgical means for arresting the development of glaucoma, there is another method of treating glaucoma that is often discussed by many, and it is quite controversial. We are, of course, talking about medical marijuana to treat glaucoma.

Medical Marijuana

The History of Medical Marijuana for Glaucoma

To understand how medical marijuana can affect glaucoma symptoms, you must first understand what causes glaucoma in the first place. This eye condition occurs when the optic nerve in our eyes becomes damaged over time, reducing our vision and sometimes causing total blindness. One of the main reasons that the optic nerve damage in glaucoma occurs in the first place is because of a higher-than-normal pressure within the eye, often referred to as intraocular pressure (IOP).

In the 1970s, researchers began several studies to see whether or not smoking marijuana would lower the IOP of people with glaucoma because of the properties of its active ingredient, a compound known as THC. This research, which was supported by the National Eye Institute, found that when marijuana was smoked or when a form of its active ingredient was taken by pill or injection, it did in fact lower IOP. However, it only did so for a few hours.

Is Medical Marijuana Recommended for Glaucoma Patients?

Despite the fact that marijuana was actually found to lower IOP in glaucoma patients, the fact that the effects only last for 3 to 4 hours is a major drawback in making it a recommended treatment. ” Because glaucoma needs to be treated 24 hours a day, you would need to smoke marijuana six to eight times a day around the clock to receive the benefit of a consistently lowered IOP,” according to GetEyeSmart.org, a website created by the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “Because of marijuana’s mood-altering effect, smoking so much of it daily would leave you too impaired to drive, operate equipment or function at the peak of your mental ability.”

As further research has been done by scientists regarding glaucoma, they have also come to find that IOP is not the only factor that damages the optic nerve. There is increasing evidence that the reduction of blood flow to the optic nerve may also have a major impact on nerve damage, and marijuana is known to further lower blood pressure throughout the body. Therefore, it may be a while before doctors recommend this kind of glaucoma treatment over other medical or surgical alternatives.

What do you think about the research that is being done about marijuana and glaucoma? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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