Treating Glaucoma with Medical Marijuana

The age old idea of treating glaucoma with medical marijuana has long since been debated. glaucoma is one of the few degenerative optic nerve diseases, which can result in partial loss of vision or even blindness. There are various factors that contribute to optic nerve damage in glaucoma patients. However, the most damaging and widespread effect of glaucoma is the raising of intraocular pressure (IOP). When intraocular pressure is raised, damage to the optic nerves can occur. Every eye has one optic nerve connecting it to the brain. Many glaucoma medications focus solely on the treatment of IOP. Treatments that lower IOP has been proven to lower the risk of damage to the optic nerve as well as prevent current damage from spreading.

There are surprisingly few treatment options for people living with glaucoma. The main treatments being medications, Lazer treatment, and surgery. Traditionally people have mainly treated glaucoma with oral carbonic anhydrase inhibitors, which significantly lower IOP. However when taken orally there is a wide array of unwanted side effects such as nausea, memory problems, depression, and more. Recently brands of carbonic anhydrase inhibitors in eye drop form were released, prompting the almost total replacement of oral carbonic anhydrase inhibitors. While the side effects from these eye drops range from burning to itchy eyes, they are generally preferred over the oral inhibitors side effects.

For some patients side effects caused by various glaucoma treatments are intolerable. For others, the medications/procedures do not reduce their IOP effectively enough to treat their glaucoma. In situations like these, people have to turn to other possible treatment methods. One of the most heavily referenced illnesses for medical marijuana treatment is glaucoma. While some may think it’s just a myth, the medical industry has been aware of the fact that marijuana helps with glaucoma for almost half a century.

Studies conducted by the National Eye Institute, a division of the federal National Institutes of Health in the early 1970’s proved that smoking marijuana reduces IOP. Based on this discovery the institute decided to continue research on the subject. This research was mainly focused on figuring out whether THC (one of the main psychoactive ingredients found in marijuana) was the cause of the reduced IOP; or whether it was one of the other hundreds of chemicals found in the plant. What they found was that when patients ingested only THC, their IOP was still lowered.

Their research concluded that while Marijuana (or more specifically THC) lowered IOP, it only remained lowered for a 3-4 hour maximum. Glaucoma patients need to keep their IOP reduced 24/7 to prevent further damage to the optical nerves. In essence, this meant that if you are a glaucoma patient wanting to treat your illness with marijuana, you would have to smoke/ingest THC 6-8 times per day. While life is extremely varied, I can say definitively that most people don’t want to be stoned all day every day.

So although marijuana is as effective a treatment as any other medication, it’s mentally impairing side effects make it a less desiring one for most.

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