Glaucoma and Medical Marijuana

Glaucoma is a condition that causes damage to your eye’s optic nerve and gets worse over time. It’s often linked to a buildup of pressure inside your eye. Glaucoma tends to be inherited and may not show up until later in life.

The increased pressure, called intraocular pressure, can damage the optic nerve, which transmits images to your brain. If the damage continues, glaucoma can lead to permanent vision loss. Without treatment, glaucoma can cause total permanent blindness within a few years.

Worldwide, glaucoma is the second leading cause of irreversible blindness. In fact, as many as 6 million individuals are blind in both eyes from this disease. In the United States alone, according to one estimate, more than 3 million people have glaucoma. As many as half of these individuals with glaucoma may not know that they have the disease. The reason they are unaware of the presence of the disease is that glaucoma initially causes no symptoms, and the subsequent loss of side vision (peripheral vision) is usually not recognized.

Marijuana and Glaucoma

Currently, the only way to control glaucoma and prevent vision loss is to lower your IOP levels. Your ophthalmologist can treat glaucoma with medication, such as prescription eye drops, or surgery, depending on the type of glaucoma and how severe it is.

The idea that marijuana can be helpful in treating glaucoma dates to the 1970s. Medical marijuana has been linked to glaucoma for decades, and there were studies that showed that marijuana could help reduce the intraocular pressure people with glaucoma experience. With that being said, research showed that marijuana could only temporarily reduce the eye pressure of glaucoma. 

In fact, most research shows that with marijuana and glaucoma, the effects of the marijuana last only a few hours, and this is one of the biggest reasons marijuana might not be the best treatment for glaucoma. Glaucoma needs around-the-clock treatment, so it would require that someone use marijuana throughout the day to really get the benefits. Marijuana lowers blood pressure, which can result in even less blood flow to the optic nerve. With marijuana and glaucoma, it’s not seen as an ideal treatment for early-stage patients. However, even with that being said, with late-stage glaucoma, marijuana is often more encouraged as a treatment.

The reason is because during late stage glaucoma the objective isn’t necessarily to treat it because the long-term damage has likely already been done. Instead, marijuana may be used to help treat the accompanying symptoms and discomfort. For example, marijuana could help with the pain and nausea that can be associated with late-stage glaucoma. There is likely to be continuing research on marijuana and glaucoma, because of the role cannabinoid receptors play in ocular tissue. It may be that in the future researchers are able to develop cannabis-based medicines that are more effective in helping with earlier stage glaucoma.