I am sure this topic has been touched on by a few different outlets, but here are the medical facts to help you make an educated decision.
Medical marijuana is promoted as a treatment for many diseases, including glaucoma. And now that the sale and possession of marijuana has been legalized in states like Colorado and Washington, it can be easier than ever to self-medicate as a glaucoma treatment without consulting your ophthalmologist. But does it really work?
Glaucoma is an eye condition in which the optic nerve becomes damaged over time, reducing side vision. It sometimes leads to blindness. One cause of optic nerve damage in glaucoma is higher-than-normal pressure within the eye (intraocular pressure or "IOP").
This pressure does become painful so various forms of treatment are offered to help provide temporary relief. The treatments available for helping lower the eye pressure can either be eye drop medication, laser treatment, and or surgery. There are some individuals for whom these treatments either do not sufficiently lower the eye pressure, or cause unacceptable side effects. In these situations, both glaucoma patient and physician look for alternative therapies.
I am sure you are saying what other treatment alternatives are there? One of the most commonly discussed alternatives for the treatment of glaucoma is smoking marijuana. The reason being for this is smoking marijuana helps lower the eye pressure. Now the downside to this alternative is the fact that marijuana's effect on eye pressure only lasts 3-4 hours, meaning that to lower the eye pressure around the clock, marijuana would have to be smoked 6-8 times a day.
Additionally, marijuana's mood altering effects prevent the patient who is using it from driving, operating heavy machinery, and functioning at maximum mental capacity. Keep in mind that marijuana cigarettes also contain hundreds of compounds that damage the lungs, and the chronic, frequent use of marijuana can damage the brain.
Another way of administering marijuana other than smoking it would be to ingest it by mouth and under the tongue. One could do so if they possessed the active ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). By choosing these methods, one avoid the harmful effect of marijuana smoke on the lungs, but are limited by the other systemic side effects, such as drowsiness and loss of judgment. So far doctors have not been able to successfully formulate an eye drop that is able to introduce the drug into the eye in sufficient concentration to be effective.
Although marijuana does lower the eye pressure, it also lowers blood pressure. Lower blood pressure could result in reduced blood supply to the optic nerve, which in turn might harm the optic nerve. Therefore it is possible that even though marijuana does lower the eye pressure, its use could conceivably make the vision loss from glaucoma worse! For this reason, marijuana cannot be recommended without a long term clinical trial that evaluates the health of the optic nerve as well as the eye pressure.
The take-home message of this article is that although marijuana can assist lowering the eye pressure pain, recommending this drug in any form for the treatment of glaucoma at the present time does not make sense given its side effects and short duration of action, coupled with a lack of evidence that its use alters the course of glaucoma.