Is Marijuana a Miracle Drug For Treating Glaucoma?
When Colorado became one of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana use and possession in 2014, the Denver Post launched a new publication called The Cannabist. The goal was to cover all things marijuana as the state evolved to accommodate this burgeoning new industry.
The publication recruited a high-profile columnist — none other than Whoopi Goldberg — to weigh in with her own thoughts on cannabis use. Ms. Goldberg suffers from glaucoma, an eye condition that damages the optic nerve over time, causing vision loss and, eventually, leading to total blindness if left untreated. Goldberg’s first column for The Cannabist was an ode to her vape pen. She wrote about how much it helped her deal with crushing headaches she would experience from her glaucoma.
When people go to the doctor and request a medical marijuana license (in states where it’s legal), glaucoma is one of the most frequently cited reasons. This disease has even compelled the federal government to grant compassionate marijuana use in the past. The popular Weedmaps service has even written about marijuana and its potential treatment of glaucoma!
But is cannabis truly an effective treatment for glaucoma? One cause of optic nerve damage is elevated eye pressure, known in the eyecare world as intraocular pressure (or IOP). There is decades of research demonstrating the effect THC (the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychoactive effects) has on lowering IOP.
But there’s a catch — marijuana’s effects only last about 3 to 4 hours, according to the Glaucoma Research Foundation. So while it could provide temporary relief, a patient would have to smoke it about 6 to 8 times per day to make it an effective “treatment” of glaucoma — since the disease never takes a break.
However, experts argue that undergoing such a treatment plan would have devastating consequences. There are no studies available looking at long-term effects of chronic marijuana use.
Not to mention, being able to smoke marijuana multiple times per day is likely not cost effective for the vast majority of the 60 million glaucoma patients worldwide. The American Academy of Ophthalmology also has shared that alcohol also moderately reduces IOP for an hour or so, but no doctor would recommend drinking every hour as a glaucoma treatment plan.
“Many other effective treatments are available that don’t have the side-effects of alcohol,” according to the AAO. Phew!
The bottom line is while marijuana does effectively lower IOP for several hours, it’s about as effective a treatment plan as drinking alcohol every hour, 24 hours per day. These solutions are not sustainable and no practicing physician would tell their patient to do such a thing.
Listen to the Experts
The sensible plan is one we’ve all heard before — discuss proper treatment with your doctor! Adhere to the treatment plan your eyecare professional provides for you, and do so however you can.
Glaucoma damage is permanent, so take your eye health seriously! Don’t take shortcuts, listen to your eyecare professionals, and adhere to prescribed treatment plans. Every day that you wake up and responsibly maintain your vision is a victory against this disease.