Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide and affects more than 60 million people. In the 1970s, there were reports that smoking marijuana could lower intraocular pressure (IOP). It’s not surprising, therefore, that since then, many people have used marijuana for glaucoma, some calling it a miracle drug.
But if you’re reading this you probably want to find out if scientific research backs up people’s anecdotal experiences. Does marijuana help glaucoma?
It’s certainly one of the diagnosed conditions for which Florida residents and seasonal visitors can apply for a Florida Medical Marijuana Card, and we’re happy to advise you.
Legalized use of marijuana for medical or recreational use continues to increase in the U.S., and many people with uncontrollable glaucoma are asking ophthalmologists about using medical cannabis to suppress this eye disease.
However, among the medical community, the effectiveness of using cannabis to treat health conditions, including glaucoma, has been, and continues to be, widely discussed and debated. It’s not entirely straightforward.
So let’s take a step back and start with: What is Glaucoma?
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is an eye condition in which higher-than-normal eye pressure damages the optic nerve behind the eye. The nerve slowly deteriorates over time, sometimes undetected. First, peripheral vision is affected, but later, glaucoma can progress to total vision loss.
Initially, glaucoma doesn’t present any symptoms and can go undetected for years. For this reason, half of the people with glaucoma don’t know they have it.
Over time, peripheral vision begins to fade. This happens so slowly that, at first, people can’t tell that their vision is changing.
As glaucoma progresses, vision loss becomes more noticeable, and this is when people begin to seek professional help.
Who is at Risk for Developing Glaucoma?
At this point, experts still have not been able to pinpoint what exactly causes glaucoma and, therefore, cannot prevent it successfully. There’s enough evidence, however, to show that there are some factors that put people at higher risk for developing glaucoma.
- Hispanic/Latinos over age 60
- African Americans over age 40
- Family history of glaucoma
Lack of early symptoms makes glaucoma tricky to diagnose. But early detection can slow the progress of the disease. The only way you can do this is by having routine eye tests to confirm a positive diagnosis.
- Measuring intraocular pressure
- Dilated eye examination and imaging tests
- Checking for areas of vision loss
- Measuring corneal thickness
- Inspecting the drainage angle
Types of Glaucoma
- Primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG) is a slowly progressive disorder that destroys cells in your eye’s retina and damages your optic nerve. This loss constricts your visual field, which eventually disappears, along with your sight.
- Closed-angle (acute) glaucoma is a medical emergency caused by an abrupt increase in eye pressure – often the result of extremely high blood pressure. It presents sudden symptoms and you’ll need immediate medical attention. Symptoms you should attend to right away include intense eye pain, upset stomach (nausea), red eye, or blurry vision.
- Normal-tension glaucoma occurs when the optic nerve is damaged, but the IOP remains normal.
There is no cure for glaucoma, neither can the damage to your eye be reversed. However, if your glaucoma is caught in the early stages, medical management and treatment can slow the progression of the disease.
- Medication: Eye drops help lower the pressure in your eye and prevent damage to your optic nerve.
- Laser surgery: Lasers can drain fluid from your eye and lower eye pressure.
- Microsurgery and minimally invasive surgeries: Different types of surgery can help the fluid drain from your eye and lessen the pressure.
- Alternative treatments: Lifestyle and home remedies, herbal remedies, relaxation techniques – and/or marijuana…
Medical Marijuana for Glaucoma – the Good and the Bad
The good news is, the medical community acknowledges that marijuana effectively lowers eye pressure for people with glaucoma.
The bad news is, it’s the other effects of using medical marijuana for glaucoma that’s a cause for debate among medical professionals. There are numerous drawbacks that, for some professionals, outweigh the benefits.
Let’s look at these benefits and limitations.
1 Potential Benefits of Medical Cannabis for Glaucoma
- Fewer side effects than other treatments
- A reduced need for surgery
- Better pain management
- A treatment people perceive as “natural”
So, does marijuana help glaucoma? YES. Is it a practical treatment? Read on, and decide for yourself.
2 Limitations and Potential Risks of Using Marijuana to Treat Glaucoma
Apart from considerations of cost, general health risks, and the high potential for abuse, two particularly relevant issues stand out here:
Short duration of effectiveness
- To reduce eye pressure 24 hours a day, you would have to maintain the positive effects of cannabis 24 hours a day as well.
- Achieving eye pressure relief in this way would require you to ingest about 18-20 mg of THC six to eight times a day.
- That usage would dramatically affect your mood, mental clarity, and (if smoked) lung health. Note, however, that CBD is non-euphoric, although you must be careful about what you buy.
- You would also jeopardize your ability to drive, operate machinery, or engage in many daily activities if the CBD was contaminated with THC.
Ocular side effects
- Perhaps the strongest argument against using medical marijuana for glaucoma is the possibility that long-term use of cannabis could damage your eyes or worsen vision in some patients.
- The rationalization behind this position is that although marijuana does indeed lower eye pressure, it also lowers blood pressure throughout your entire body.
- The optic nerve can be damaged by low blood flow, effectively cancelling out and outweighing the benefit of lowered eye pressure.
New Glaucoma Research
Scientists continue to study
- what causes glaucoma,
- how we can detect it earlier, and
- how to treat it more effectively.
So far, researchers have determined that patients with abnormal eye pressure have a lower mitochondrial function.
In August 2022, scientists began a study to measure the impact of nicotinamide on mitochondrial function. This study also aims to investigate biomarkers that can predict disease progression and treatment that addresses the patient’s susceptibility to glaucoma, rather than being directed at the pressure in the eye.
If the use of nicotinamide proves successful, it could significantly reduce the damage to vision caused by glaucoma, as well as the cost of treatment.
Emerald Medical Can Help You Decide
Living with glaucoma can be difficult, and, for some patients, treatment is ineffective. This is why it’s important to evaluate your needs on a case-by-case basis and offer comprehensive medical care.
At Emerald Medical, we take your care seriously and treat each patient’s needs differently. We can advise you about the risks, benefits, and side effects of using medical marijuana for glaucoma.
If you want help to decide if medical marijuana for glaucoma is a suitable treatment for you, contact our knowledgeable team today.