September, 2019

By Jackie Giertz


Marijuana for Glaucoma

It is estimated that glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness after cataracts and that it affects 60 million people worldwide. It is also one of the frequently cited reasons for the use of medical marijuana. Glaucoma is a disease that affects the optic nerve that can result in the loss of vision and blindness.


Current treatment methods for glaucoma

Current medical practices for glaucoma aim to lower the pressure in the eye to lower the risk of causing damage to the optic nerve and also to eliminate the risk of the pre-existing damage from getting worse. Some of the treatment methods for marijuana include eye drops, laser treatment, and surgery. However, some people do not receive relief from these methods, and as a result, they have to seek alternative treatment methods.


Is marijuana effective for treating glaucoma?

Marijuana is one of the most common alternative treatments for glaucoma. Smoking marijuana helps to lower the pressure in the eye. Marijuana and THC help to reduce intraocular pressure, which is a key contributor to glaucoma. However, the effect of marijuana only lasts for 3 to for hours. To have a sustained effect, one has to smoke marijuana between 5 and 8 times a day.

Several medical studies have shown that marijuana is as effective as other conventional glaucoma treatment methods. Marijuana for glaucoma can be administered orally, by inhalation, or intravenously. Smoking or eating marijuana edibles has also been shown to reduce intraocular pressure significantly in glaucoma patients as well as in healthy patients.

Scientists are also investigating the potential use of a different way of treating glaucoma. Rather than treating glaucoma by reducing eye pressure, it would be possible to treat the condition by acting on certain receptors to provide protection against damage to the optic nerve.


Alternative methods of administering marijuana for glaucoma

Given the negative effects of smoking marijuana for glaucoma, is it possible for physicians to administer THC in a different way? Medical scientists are conducting different studies to determine the effectiveness of administering THC. Some of the proposed methods include oral ingestion, sublingual, and eye drops. Oral and sublingual (under the tongue) ensure that the patient does not develop respiratory complications. However, these two methods have unwanted side effects, and since glaucoma is a chronic disease, it would not be ideal to use these methods. Eye drops remain the most viable way of administering THC for Glaucoma. Creating a concentrated enough solution of THC is challenging since THC is not water-soluble.

Scientists are also working on different ways of developing THC solutions such that it would have a lasting effect and that patients would be able to tolerate it better.


Limitations of using marijuana to manage glaucoma

However, the use of marijuana for glaucoma has several drawbacks. For instance, it causes a reduction in blood pressure, which is an undesirable effect, especially in elderly patients. Patients may also experience an increased heart rate, which is a potential risk for patients with a history of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Reduced blood pressure could also affect blood flow to the optic nerve, which counteracts the benefits of reducing intraocular pressure.


The relative short-acting period of marijuana is the biggest drawback. Marijuana can only sustain reduced intraocular pressure for 3 to 4 hours. To maintain, a lowered intraocular pressure, glaucoma patients have to smoke marijuana up to 8 times a day, which may cause them to lose some of their mental functions during this period. Glaucoma needs to be treated throughout the day. Using marijuana to treat glaucoma could, therefore, leave the patients unable to function normally, which is an undesirable trait of any treatment method.


Scientists have experimented with the delivery of THC in oil-based eye drops. The results indicated that the patients did not experience a reduction in intraocular pressure. Additionally, the patients complained that the oil-based eye drop solution caused eye irritation.


There is no doubt that marijuana can be used to reduce intraocular pressure for patients suffering from glaucoma. However, the drawbacks of using marijuana for glaucoma outweigh the benefits. Currently, the most effective way to manage glaucoma is through the use of prescribed eye drops, or surgery, which of course depends on the severity of glaucoma.


However, there is still hope. Scientists are continually exploring the potential use of active ingredients found in marijuana to offer treatment for glaucoma. In the future, it might be possible that the effects of certain marijuana compounds can be isolated, side effects eliminated and made to be long-acting.

Jackie Giertz
Author: Jackie Giertz