Medical Marijuana and Glaucoma: Does It Help?

medical marijuana for glaucomaYou may have heard that medical marijuana is sometimes used by glaucoma patients. When most people in the United States think of marijuana, many different images, words, and opinions come to mind. Marijuana, or cannabis, is known for its psychoactive effects and medicinal properties caused by a chemical within the plant called tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC. Marijuana is most commonly recognized as a recreational drug and is subject to many legal restrictions ranging from its use, to possession of certain amounts of the plant product.

According to Richard Rudgley’s book entitled Lost Civilizations of the Stone Age, the consumption of cannabis has been dated back to the third millennium BC. It wasn’t until the early 1970s that researchers in the United States began to suggest that smoking marijuana should be considered a legitimate treatment for glaucoma.

Glaucoma, a slowly progressing, painless disease of the eyes results in loss of peripheral vision and can often lead to complete blindness if not properly treated. Although the exact cause of this disease is unknown, it is common knowledge that by lowering the intraocular pressure, or pressure on the eyeball, subsequent symptoms and loss of vision can be slowed. In general, treatment options for glaucoma involve medications, laser treatments, and surgical drainage.

But in various studies, scientists have discovered that the consumption of marijuana either by eating or smoking can notably reduce intraocular pressure, thus providing another treatment option for glaucoma sufferers. But is marijuana a legitimate treatment?

According to Dr. Jeff Maltzman of the Fishkind, Balewell, and Maltzman Eyecare and Surgery Center in Tucson, Arizona, the effects of marijuana on glaucoma symptoms are too short-lived. Most FDA-approved medications effectively reduce eye pressure by fifteen to fifty percent and are usually taken twice daily. The medicine’s effect lasts about 12 hours. Also, any side effects these medications may cause are said to be generally mild, none of which are considered an impairment but more a slight annoyance.

Smoking medicinal marijuana, on the other hand, has a lesser effect on eyeball-pressure, only reducing it by a measly ten to fifteen percent, with relief only lasting for about two hours. That would mean that a glaucoma sufferer would need to smoke or ingest marijuana approximately twelve times per day to achieve the same effect as conventional pills. In addition, medical cannabis is an unpredictable substance and usually appears in uncontrolled, varying strengths. According to a Time Magazine article printed in 2002, “Is Pot Good for You,” marijuana is not always practical as a glaucoma treatment. Because the majority of those suffering from glaucoma are elderly, there is concern that these older patients could not tolerate pot’s tendency to cause an increased heart rate.

Supporters of medicinal marijuana argue that traditional medications for glaucoma, such as eye-drops and pills, lose their effectiveness over time, resulting in a return of pressure and progressive loss of vision despite the continued consumption of prescribed medications. But in literature published by the DEA and Community Anti-drug Coalitions of America, it is emphasized that although marijuana’s components do have a reduction effect on eyeball pressure, its negative side effects may outweigh its positives. They follow up to say that marijuana is an unstable mixture of 425 chemicals that convert to thousands when consumed via smoking. Many of these chemicals are toxic, psychoactive chemicals that are mostly unstudied and unpredictable. Smoking marijuana can negatively affect coordination and can cause perception impairment. It can also cause a number of mental disorders including depression, hostility, and increased aggressiveness, general apathy, memory loss, reproductive disabilities, and impairment to the immune system.

So, although medical marijuana has been presented to the American public as a viable option to slow the progressive symptoms of Glaucoma, much still remains to be studied on the plant’s treatment effectiveness. Most medical professionals would recommend sticking with FDA approved medications to avoid the substantial and potentially incapacitating side effects of smoking or ingesting marijuana.


Note: There is a great deal of research showing that specific nutrients and herbs help protect the optic nerve from damage, and even lower intraocular pressure naturally. Learn more about natural glaucoma research.