Is it possible to use medical marijuana for glaucoma treatment? Glaucoma, a serious eye disease, is the world’s leading cause of irreversible blindness. Most often associated with elevated intraocular pressure, glaucoma damages the optic nerve. This link between the brain and the eye is vital when it comes to delivering visual information. Damage to the optic nerve as a result of glaucoma can result in both a loss of vision and blindness.
Medical Marijuana for Glaucoma: Is It Worth Trying?
Symptoms and Treatment of Glaucoma
In many cases, glaucoma causes no symptoms. By the time a person notices changes to their vision, the damage from the disease is permanent. Fortunately, there are treatments available designed to slow or even halt the progression of the disease. Laser treatments, surgery, and eye drops are designed to lower the pressure of the eye so that the risk of the optic nerve becoming damaged is lower, and any existing damage doesn’t become worse.
When Treatment Doesn’t Work
In some cases, despite aggressive treatment for rising pressure in the eye, some people simply don’t respond well. In other situations, the side effects caused by these treatments are so unacceptable that they affect the patient’s quality of life. At this point, both glaucoma patients and their doctors start looking for alternative treatments that might offer a better solution.
Medicinal Marijuana and Its Role in Treating Diseases
Medical marijuana has enjoyed an increase in interest as a natural treatment alternative option for a plethora of diseases and conditions. With medical marijuana now legal in 29 states and the District of Columbia, patients could potentially use it to treat conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain, arthritis, cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, HIV, and more.
Can Medical Marijuana Treat Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is one of the diseases that’s been studied to determine the effect that medical marijuana has on interocular pressure. While scientists have found that the plant’s active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), does reduce pressure in the eyes, it can also lower blood pressure. This lowered blood pressure could result in further harm to the optic nerve because its blood supply has been restricted. Another small study found that THC could help preserve the eye’s nerves.
There are several issues that aren’t often highlighted when it comes to treating glaucoma with medical marijuana. This includes that its effects on eye pressure are relatively short-lived — only about three or four hours. This means that a patient who is smoking marijuana for glaucoma treatment would need to smoke between six and eight times every day to experience continuous relief.
Side Effects of Using Medical Marijuana
In addition to having a short duration, smoking marijuana damages the lungs with hundreds of compounds. Frequent marijuana smoking, over a long period of time, can also damage the brain. Because marijuana affects physiology, patients are not able to operate heavy machinery, drive or function at their best mental capacity.
Other Methods of Delivering THC
Scientists have worked to develop other methods for delivering THC such as, under the tongue and orally. While these methods eliminate the harmful effects of smoking, the other systemic side effects — loss of judgment and drowsiness — are still present. These side effects have been severe. In one study, all nine of its patient participants discontinued the use of a pill with THC and stopped smoking marijuana — both of which were offered as treatment options — within nine months.
While eye drops containing THC or a similar compound are being studied, researchers are not able to formulate a mixture strong enough to be effective at lowering eye pressure.
Though medical marijuana appears promising, this doesn’t come without serious side effects. This includes side effects that could make glaucoma worse. Until extensive clinical trials that evaluate both the eye pressure and the health of the optic nerve, the debilitating side effects, coupled with the short duration that THC is active in the body, don’t make medical marijuana a valid treatment for glaucoma.
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