Glaucoma refers to a group of eye diseases that result in damage to the optic nerve, or the nerve that connects the eye to the brain. Over time, glaucoma can lead to progressive, irreversible vision loss. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, glaucoma is the second most common cause of blindness around the world. This year, thousands of people across the United States have or will develop glaucoma, but they should take comfort in the fact that the condition is generally treatable, especially if it is caught early on.
Cannabis has become famous for reducing the pressure in the eyeball as a result of a popularly discussed experiment conducted in the 1970s. In fact, almost every state medical cannabis program lists glaucoma as a treatable illness. Below Massachusetts medical marijuana doctor Jordan Tishler will discuss the intersection between medical cannabis and glaucoma, and explain why those with glaucoma absolutely should not turn away from the conventional medications they take to manage their condition.
Who is at Risk of Developing Glaucoma?
Most forms of glaucoma – but not all – are caused by abnormally high pressure in the back of the eye. When this pressure, also known as intraocular pressure (IOP), increases, the optic nerve behind the eye can become damaged. Although glaucoma generally presents in people who are greater than 60 years old, people of any age can develop glaucoma. A variety of other factors, including family history, chronic eye problems, or eye-related injury can put someone at a higher risk of developing glaucoma. Those who have certain medical conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension (high blood pressure), are also at risk of developing glaucoma.
Notable Symptoms of Glaucoma
Besides loss of vision, those with glaucoma may report symptoms like eye pain, tunnel vision, and nausea and vomiting. There are five main types of glaucoma, although the most common kind is open-angle glaucoma. Those with open-angle glaucoma will often gradually experience loss of vision but present with no other signs of disease. It should be noted that any type of glaucoma can cause blindness, especially if left untreated, and those who think they may have glaucoma should see their doctor immediately.
Can Medical Marijuana Be Used to Treat Glaucoma?
Treating glaucoma generally involves reducing intraocular pressure through physician-prescribed eye drops or other medications. Interestingly enough, many clinical studies conducted on patients with glaucoma suggest that cannabis may be extremely effective at reducing intraocular pressure (Source). Researchers found that intraocular pressure was significantly reduced in participants who were administered cannabis orally, intravenously, and by inhalation. It should be noted that when applied topically to the eye, cannabis was not effective at reducing intraocular pressure in patients (Source). Be warned that applying cannabis to the eyes may result in swelling or a burning sensation, and is not recommended.
Combining Medical Marijuana with Conventional Glaucoma Treatments
The effects of cannabis typically fade within one to hours after use or consumption, and therefore someone with glaucoma would have to use cannabis every two hours, 24/7 in order to successfully keep their pressure at an acceptable level. Patients with glaucoma are unlikely to follow such an involved treatment regimen, and doing so would moreover interfere with their sleep and other normal day-to-day activities. This means that although this research is promising, it is still not recommended to use cannabis alone to treat glaucoma. Cannabis may be beneficial for those with glaucoma, but conventional methods of reducing intraocular pressure are simply far more efficient and effective.
Physicians generally begin treatment for glaucoma with eye drops, which are able to reduce intraocular pressure and halt vision loss. Depending on the type of glaucoma a patient has and its severity, other medications in pill form may be prescribed in addition to eye drops. In cases of increased intraocular pressure resulting from a blockage, surgery may be needed to drain the blockage and any excess fluid in the eye. However, a physician will generally only suggest surgery once medication and other less invasive options have been exhausted.
A word about CBD: CBD has been shown to increase intraocular pressure! In other words, CBD can likely make glaucoma worse. Please do not use CBD to treat glaucoma, or if you have glaucoma and are thinking about using CBD for some other reason.
Learn More About Glaucoma and Cannabis from Our Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Doctor
Unfortunately, there is no surefire way to prevent one from developing glaucoma. Therefore, it is important to regularly schedule an eye exam with an ophthalmologist to monitor your vision and eye health. If you have glaucoma and would like to learn more about incorporating medical marijuana into your treatment plan, consider consulting with a trained cannabis specialist. Boston medical marijuana doctor Jordan Tishler, M.D. is a physician and sits on the faculty at Harvard Medical School. He is also the president of the Association of Cannabis Specialists, and the CEO of InhaleMD– a private institute of cannabis medicine. He has spent years assisting patients with cannabis, and can help determine if medical marijuana is right for you. For more information, or to set up a consultation with the team at InhaleMD, call (617) 861-8519.