Cannabis and Glaucoma
Glaucoma is the name for a group of eye diseases that affect the eyes and vision. For decades, people who suffer from glaucoma have been using cannabis to treat the disease, and patients and doctors alike submit that cannabis is an effective treatment for the condition. We’ll give you an overview of what experts have to say about cannabis’s effect on glaucoma.
Glaucoma: What is it?
Glaucoma affects roughly 3 million Americans, 120 thousand of whom are blind from the disease. More startlingly, only half of those 3 million even know they have it! This is because the progression of the disease is very often slow and gradual, allowing symptoms to go unnoticed for years.
There are two types of glaucoma, both of which share in deteriorating the vision over time. This can eventually lead to the point of blindness if left untreated. According to the Mayo Clinic, there are two types: open-angle and acute-angle closure, with the former being far more common. Open-angle manifests in gradually worsening ‘tunnel-vision,’ in which peripheral vision becomes more and more impaired. Acute angle-closure has more severe symptoms, including eye pain, headaches, nausea, and vomiting.
While the disease is not fully understood, experts agree that the cause of glaucoma is related to increased pressure in the eye, or intraocular pressure (IOP). So, while regaining already lost vision isn’t possible, treatment is focused on slowing or halting the gradual loss of vision by reducing IOP.
How Cannabis Can Help Glaucoma
The way in which cannabis aids in the treatment of glaucoma is similar to any other medication: it reduces IOP to slow or stop the progression of the disease. In a 2004 study, cannabinoids, the active ingredients in cannabis, found in the plant were shown to effectively lower IOP in users. Additionally, the study found that cannabis has neuroprotective qualities which also aid in combating glaucoma.
Cardiac surgeon and medical cannabis advocate Thomas Orvald, MD, threw in his two cents in support of the notion that cannabis can help with glaucoma: “The treatment for this disease is to somehow get the pressure down within the globe . It just so happens that one of the many virtues of cannabis is that it has the capability of decreasing intraocular pressure… Cannabis is a very effective way, used properly, to decrease the pressure within the eye…”
Of course, cannabis can also help make the symptoms more manageable as well. A study published in 2008 showed that cannabis was more effective than the standard anti-emetic (vomit suppressing) drugs used for chemotherapy patients. Using cannabis resulted in a significant reduction of nausea, and it stands to reason that this effect would be seen on glaucoma sufferers who also experience nausea and vomiting.
While it is universally recognized that cannabis lowers the IOP in users, there is some disagreement in the medical community as to how effective cannabis is in achieving this task. Katherine Shen, OD, is on the record as being skeptical. She writes, “At this time, marijuana’s side effects and short duration of action preclude recommending this drug in any form for the treatment of glaucoma.” Given that the effects of marijuana last roughly 4-5 hours and come with their own host of side effects, some agree with Shen that cannabis is not the ideal candidate to treat this disease.
Regardless of where you stand on the issue, it is clear that more research ought to be done on the efficacy of cannabis in treating glaucoma sufferers, both for the disease itself, and for managing its symptoms. Given the proven ability of cannabis to lower IOP, there are likely ways to further utilize cannabis in accomplishing this task more effectively. And even if there aren’t, the plant still helps thousands of people with glaucoma every day in treating their nausea, vomiting, or discomfort from the disease.