Can Cannabis Help with Glaucoma? Jump to Recipe
In recent years, there has been a revival in researchers and doctors exploring the true medicinal benefits of cannabis. While cannabis has long been seen as a potential medical treatment for a range of conditions, it has always been contingent on requiring more research to say with any certainty that it is a real medical option. Research is starting to show the real medicinal benefits of cannabis when treating different conditions. One condition that continues to be heavily explored is how cannabis can help with glaucoma.
Glaucoma affects over 3 million Americans, according to the CDC, and is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide. Glaucoma causes damage to the optic nerve, which is responsible for transmitting signals between the eyes and brain. The damage caused by glaucoma can greatly reduce vision and could lead to permanent blindness. There is currently no remedy for glaucoma. Doctors and researchers have spent decades trying to develop effective treatments for patients suffering from glaucoma. When exploring options for natural treatment, many studies turned to cannabis to explore what, if any, benefits cannabis could have for glaucoma patients.
What is the Cause of Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a condition that can happen to anyone. The main cause of glaucoma is an excessive amount of pressure within the eye, medically referred to as elevated intraocular pressure (IOP). This pressure impacts the quality of vision and can even create blindness.
Symptoms vary depending on the type of glaucoma and what stage of the condition the person is in. Speaking specifically to open-angle glaucoma, symptoms are usually developed slowly but consistently in advancing blind spots in peripheral or central vision. This can often impact both eyes. As the condition progresses, these blind spots can become full tunnel vision. Whereas angle-closure glaucoma can happen suddenly, and the symptoms are much more severe. Typical symptoms include severe headache, eye pain, blurred vision, eye redness, as well as nausea, and vomiting.
Current Treatment Options for Glaucoma
Current treatment options for glaucoma help slow the progression of the condition through IOP reduction. There is no cure for glaucoma, but different treatment plans can help alleviate the symptoms and possibly prevent severe vision loss or blindness. Glaucoma is often treated with medical laser, or surgical procedures. There are several different types of prescription medicines available that can help with IOP reduction, like topicals and drops If prescription medicines and other treatment plans are unable to alleviate the pressure, laser or surgical procedures on the eyes may be the next step.
Is Marijuana Good for Glaucoma?
In the 70s and 80s, initial research suggested that some of the cannabinoids within cannabis could provide therapeutic effects. One question that many researchers were curious about - how does cannabis affect intraocular pressure? Early studies found that THC and CBD bind to endocannabinoid receptors found in humans and we possess two types of receptors, with one type found in the tissue of the eyes.
These early tests showed positive results in marijuana’s ability to help decrease the IOP numbers in patients with glaucoma. This foundational research showed a good indication that cannabis was able to help lower intraocular pressure, but it also indicated that studies were on the smaller side and that more research would have to be conducted.
What Cannabinoids Help Glaucoma?
Cannabinoids are compounds found in the cannabis plant, which are interactive with the endocannabinoid system found in humans. The most commonly known cannabinoids are THC and CBD. THC is known for both its therapeutic benefits and its psychoactive effects. CBD does not have psychoactive effects but has shown to be beneficial in providing pain relief and acting as an anti-inflammatory.
Researchers have found that cannabinoids display a neuroprotective effect in glaucoma that helps prevent retinal cell death. With most research primarily including the THC cannabinoid, we are able to attribute IOP-minimizing results to THC. While it has shown the best results THC arguably has more chances of side effects due to its psychoactive component. While this can be appealing to some medical patients, others may not want to experience that effect and more research continues to be conducted to address this issue.
Does CBD Help with Glaucoma?
Research focused on CBD and its impact on glaucoma have been mixed. CBD has been embraced by popular culture in recent years. Walk down any aisle of your local store, and you’re likely to find something infused with CBD. CBD has flooded the health and beauty market, as well as topical relief creams for pain and inflammation. Due to this wide acceptance of CBD as a treatment option, doctors and researchers have had to start fully exploring the true medicinal benefits.
CBD has shown great strides in providing relief for those who have epilepsy. This further solidified CBD as a real contender for a natural and reliable method of treatment for a variety of medical conditions. When it comes to glaucoma, more research has to be performed. From what researchers have found, it is the THC cannabinoid that helps reduce IOP. Studies specifically focused on CBD are few and far between, providing mixed reviews at this time.
Edibles for Glaucoma
There have been several studies conducted on the different methods of cannabinoid consumption for treating glaucoma symptoms and they began in the 70s and experienced a revival in 2011. These studies explored the different results experienced by those who smoked a marijuana cigarette, used a topical treatment, were intravenously treated, or used edibles for their treatment option. While current research is ongoing, there have been consistent results over the years.
Studies showed that orally administered treatment showed great capabilities in lowering the IOP effect, providing pressure relief for the eyes. But the IOP decrease would peak around the two-hour mark, and the benefits would start to dissipate in four hours. This indicated that while the results were promising, they were also short-lived. So to maintain the beneficial results, glaucoma patients would have to medicate again. This leads to concern about growing tolerance levels and the potential misuse, or overuse, of treatment methods.
All methods showed promise in lowering the IOP pressure associated with glaucoma, the results were short-lived. Intravenous showed promise for research but not for the actual treatment, and eye drop results were mixed at best.
There is still much research to be done to indicate whether or not marijuana will prove to be a reliable treatment option for glaucoma patients. As it currently stands, researchers are still trying to find ways to stretch the length of beneficial results without having to continue dosing, which could lead to a high level of tolerance and a decrease in treatment benefits.
The Future of Marijuana as a Treatment for Glaucoma
The future of marijuana continues to get brighter each year. More states are open to legalization, and years of misconceptions are finally being broken down. With more states legalizing marijuana and more products on the market than ever before, the opportunities for research continue to improve. With the pressures of patients and doctors alike, more trials and peer-reviewed studies will develop, providing the key research needed.
When it comes to the future of marijuana and glaucoma, more research still needs to happen. Newer studies are in development, and long-term studies will be necessary to discover the true long-term treatment benefits. As of now, the evidence is inconclusive as to the ability to use marijuana as a legitimate glaucoma treatment. One of the largest roadblocks for marijuana is the short-term effects of the perceived benefits.
While the research is clear that marijuana does help reduce IOP, the problem researchers are facing is that these benefits fade within a few hours. Glaucoma needs to be treated around the clock. Researchers worry about the long-term effects of having to medicate repeatedly throughout the day and this is a concern that is fueling the need for further research and development. Time will tell what solution we have yet to discover.
While the scientific studies may be lacking for now, many glaucoma patients have responded with positive results when using marijuana in addition to their prescribed treatment routine.
*This post was originally published February 26, 2021. It was updated June 30, 2022 to reflect new research.
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