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Is Marijuana Good for Glaucoma?

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Is Marijuana Good for Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a common eye disease that affects the optic nerve and results in loss of peripheral vision or side vision.  The treatment for glaucoma is to lower the pressure inside the eye or intraocular pressure(IOP).  This can be accomplished by laser, eye drops, or surgery. With the legalization of marijuana in 28 states as of January 2017, the question of whether marijuana is a good treatment for glaucoma has resurfaced. 

            The idea that marijuana can be used to treat glaucoma dates back to the 1970s.  Smoking marijuana does lower intraocular pressure in the eye but the effect lasts only 3-4 hours.   In order for marijuana to be an effective treatment, a person would have to smoke every 3 hours.  Since marijuana also has psychoactive effects, consistently smoking it would prevent a person from performing at maximum mental capacity and frequent use can cause problems with short term memory.

Do I need to make any lifestyle changes to manage my Glaucoma?

Marijuana not only lowers intraocular pressure but also blood pressure and blood flow throughout the body.   There is evidence that decreased blood flow to the optic nerve may cause further damage.   Therefore, it is possible that the lower intraocular pressure is negated by the decreased blood pressure to the eye.

Other ways of administering the active ingredient of marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), include oral and topical administration.  These forms would avoid the harmful compounds which damage the lungs when marijuana is smoked.  The oral form would not avoid the systemic effects of marijuana.  There has been a research program which enrolled nine patients to take either oral THC or inhaled marijuana.  None of the patients could sustain treatment for more than 9 months due to side effects such as distortion of perception, confusion, anxiety, depression, and severe dizziness. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12545695)

Alternatively, though eye drops may potentially avoid systemic effects, there is no formulation currently available to introduce a sufficient amount of the active ingredient into the eye. 

 The current position by the American Glaucoma Society and American Academy of Ophthalmology is that marijuana is not recommended in any form for treatment of glaucoma at the present time. 

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