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Medical Marijuana and Glaucoma

marijuana and glaucoma

If you’ve been diagnosed with the eye condition glaucoma, you'll be naturally concerned. Your vision could be significantly affected as the condition worsens. You could even go blind. Fortunately, early detection and treatment can preserve vision.

This article may benefit you if you’re currently looking into alternative treatments for your glaucoma. You’ll learn about how medical marijuana for glaucoma can help gently alleviate your symptoms, particularly if you’re searching for answers and are worried about how the condition impacts you or a loved one.

What Is Glaucoma?

More than 3 million Americans are estimated to suffer from glaucoma, a disease of the major nerve of vision called the optic nerve. Without diagnosis and treatment, glaucoma can progress to loss of central vision and blindness. Worldwide, glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness.

glaucoma stats

For good vision, you need a healthy optic nerve. The nerve itself consists of over a million nerve fibers. It connects your retina — the light-sensitive tissue at the back of your eye — to your brain. With glaucoma, fluid usually builds up in the front part of your eye, putting extra pressure within your eye and damaging the optic nerve.

Types of Glaucoma

There are two main types of glaucoma: primary open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma, also known as narrow-angle or closed-angle glaucoma.

Primary Open-Angle Glaucoma

Primary open-angle glaucoma is the most common type. The condition comes on gradually. Your eye won’t drain fluid as well as it should. Eye pressure then builds and begins to damage your optic nerve. You won’t feel any pain or notice any vision changes in the early stages.

Some people have optic nerves that are more sensitive to pressure, which heightens your risk of developing glaucoma. Regular eye exams are essential so your doctor can identify and treat your condition early.

Angle-Closure Glaucoma

Angle-closure glaucoma develops when the drainage angle in your eye is particularly close to your iris. It is so close, in fact, that your iris can block the drainage angle, resulting in a rapid rise in eye pressure. When this happens, it’s known as an acute attack, and it is an emergency situation. You could go blind if you don’t contact an ophthalmologist immediately.

Some, but not all, people with this type of glaucoma develop the condition very slowly. There will be no damage at all in the beginning. You won’t know you have the condition until you have an attack or your damage becomes severe. You can go blind if you don’t get treatment immediately for acute attacks that elevate your eye pressure levels dangerously.

Other Types of Glaucoma

The majority of other types of glaucoma are variations of the above types. Any of these conditions can affect one or both your eyes. These include:

  • Congenital glaucoma, or childhood glaucoma
  • Neovascular glaucoma
  • Iridocorneal Endothelial Syndrome
  • Neovascular glaucoma
  • Traumatic glaucoma
  • Pseudoexfoliative glaucoma
  • Secondary glaucoma
  • Pigmentary glaucoma

There are certain factors that make it more likely for you to develop glaucoma. These include:

  • Being over the age of 35
  • Being of African-American descent
  • Taking corticosteroid medications
  • Having a family history of the disease
  • Sustaining a serious eye injury in the past
  • Having diabetes

History of Glaucoma

Glaucoma was first diagnosed in ancient times. Hippocrates described a blindness condition, named glaykoseis, that occurred in the elderly. The English ophthalmologist Richard Banister was the first to make the connection between glaucoma and heightened eyeball tension.

Then, in 1850, Hermann von Helmholtz invented the ophthalmoscope. Glaucoma was then easier to detect in patients. In 1856, Albrecht von Graefe carried out an iridectomy that turned out to be the first effective surgery for the condition. Drug treatment with pilocarpine began in 1875.

Symptoms Of Glaucoma

Symptoms of angle-closure glaucoma include:

  • Vomiting
  • Seeing halos or colored rainbow-like rings around lights
  • Headache
  • Sudden blurry vision
  • Nausea
  • Severe head and eye pain
  • Sudden sight loss

These symptoms are very pronounced, and eye damage happens rapidly. Make an appointment with an ophthalmologist without delay if you experience any of the above.

Symptoms of open-angle glaucoma are less obvious than that of acute angle-closure glaucoma. There are typically no painful symptoms or early warning signs of open-angle glaucoma. The disease develops slowly, and you might not detect any sight loss for several years, especially if you don’t see your eye care practitioner regularly. Your vision may remain sharp until you’re in the later stages of the disease. You perhaps won’t notice your peripheral vision is deteriorating.

Unfortunately, the disease can be rather advanced by the time you’re usually aware of any vision loss. Glaucoma can lead to blindness if not treated. Regular eye examinations are crucial for this reason.

Effects of Glaucoma

Having glaucoma is stressful. Worrying about your vision problems can take over your life. Depending on the type of glaucoma you have, you may have suffered a painful attack, or you could have no symptoms at all.

Your quality of life can be dramatically diminished if you have begun to or have lost your vision. You may not respond as well as you might have hoped to treatments. All that worrying can have a negative impact on your immune system, and you feel frequently fatigued. You may even develop clinical depression. You may lose interest in activities you once enjoyed, especially ones that require good vision and concentration.

Fortunately, if you’re adversely impacted by glaucoma symptoms, you have treatment options — including prescription eye drops, surgery and medical cannabis — that can help you maintain your vision and quality of life.

Glaucoma Statistics

Take a look at these statistics collated by the Glaucoma Research Foundation regarding the prevalence of the condition and who is affected:

  • Estimates suggest more than 3 million Americans have glaucoma, though only 50 percent of these people are aware they have it.
  • Glaucoma accounts for 9 to 12 percent of blindness in the U.S.
  • More than 120,000 people in America are blind from glaucoma.
  • The disease is the second leading cause of blindness in the world.
  • African-Americans are 15 times more likely to suffer visual impairment from glaucoma than Caucasians.
leading cause of blindness

Current Treatments Available for Glaucoma and Their Side Effects

Rapid treatment for some types of glaucoma can delay their progression. Effective treatment for glaucoma involves the use of drugs or surgical procedures that prevent progressive optic nerve damage. The only method of accomplishing this is by lowering intraocular pressure (IOP). There are various conventional ways to treat the disease, including:

Medications

You may be prescribed oral medications or eye drops in the early stages of the disease. Prescription eye drops decrease the amount of fluid your eye produces and/or improve the way fluid drains from your eyes.

Prescription eye drop medications include:

  • Alpha-adrenergic agonists
  • Beta blockers
  • Carbonic anhydrase inhibitors
  • Prostaglandins
  • Miotic or cholinergic agents

Oral medications or prescription eye drops can lower eye pressure, but can sometimes cause varying side effects, including headaches, slowed breathing, eye stinging, metallic taste, tingling in the toes and fingers, nearsightedness, dim vision, blurry vision, changes in the pigment of the eyelids or eyelashes, impotence, fatigues, dry mouth or high or low blood pressure.

Laser Trabeculoplasty

Laser trabeculoplasty is a procedure performed at an eye clinic or in your doctor’s office. Numbing drops and a laser are applied to your eye. The laser works to enable the fluid to drain better. Side effects of the treatment include inflammation.

Conventional Surgery

Conventional surgery is usually carried out when laser surgery and medications have been unable to control eye pressure. It involves making a new opening for fluid to leave your eye. The surgery, known as trabeculectomy, consists of a small piece of tissue being removed, creating a new channel for fluid drainage.

You need to use special eye drops to combat inflammation and infection for several weeks after the surgery. If both your eyes are affected, your doctor will do one surgery per eye, approximately four to six weeks apart. Conventional surgery offers a 60 to 80 percent success rate, though your vision may never be as good as it was before your surgery. Potential complications include:

  • Low eye pressure problems
  • Cornea problems
  • Infection
  • Inflammation

Lifestyle Changes

The below habits and home remedy tips may help you manage your eye pressure.

  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Exercising — speak to your physician first about the types and frequency of exercising.
  • Sleeping on a wedge pillow
  • Reducing caffeine
  • Sipping fluids throughout the day, rather than drinking large amounts of fluids at once

Other Emerging Treatments

Research is ongoing in the treatment of glaucoma. New medications, surgical procedures, medication delivery methods and devices, such as the iStent and others, are being evaluated for their effectiveness.

Medical Marijuana as an Effective Treatment for Glaucoma

Though research findings on the effectiveness of marijuana for glaucoma have been mixed, medical cannabis —often referred to as medical weed or medical pot — may help alleviate IOP and in turn, lessen effects of the disease. Studies supported by the National Eye Institute in the 1970s showed that medical marijuana or its components, when taken orally or via inhalation, can lower intraocular pressure. And in 2003, the American Academy of Ophthalmology released a position statement which said, "Some derivatives of marijuana did result in lowering of IOP when administered orally, intravenously or by smoking, but not when topically applied to the eye."

Because the possibility exists that marijuana may be useful in treating glaucoma, the American Academy of Ophthalmology Committee on Drugs maintains a long-term clinical study is needed to test safety and effectiveness of marijuana. However, countless patients have found relief from glaucoma symptoms with cannabis, and many marijuana states have approved marijuana use for the treatment of glaucoma.

What Symptoms of Glaucoma Can Marijuana Treat?

Cannabis can control IOP and is neuroprotective. It also has painkilling and anti-inflammatory properties that can go a long way toward relieving your symptoms. Some strains of medical pot also work against the nausea and vomiting associated with a glaucoma attack.

eye pressure relief

Medical pot is a good alternative if you’ve tried conventional glaucoma treatments and feel you need something gentler, yet still effective at reducing your eye pressure. Let’s take a look at some of the best strains to use when you’re suffering from glaucoma.

Best Strains of Marijuana to Use for Glaucoma

Pot continues to be prohibited on a government level in the United States. Nonetheless, several states have legalized its medical and recreational use. You need to have a diagnosis of a condition that's on your own state's list of qualifying medical marijuana conditions to be approved to use medical cannabis for glaucoma.

You also need to have a medical cannabis physician's recommendation, which will get you a medical pot card. As soon as you have this, you can visit dispensaries to buy the medical pot for your own specific needs.

There are several useful strains of medical marijuana for glaucoma that are readily available to buy from dispensaries. Each strain has its distinct effects. You should have a conversation with an experienced budtender and/or your medical cannabis doctor to figure out what strains may be best for your specific needs. In the meantime, look at this short list of useful glaucoma strains.

Eye pressure

Suffering from pressure behind the eyes can lead to optic nerve damage and even blindness. Thankfully, there are various cannabis strains that may be able to help relieve this. These include:

  • Blueberry — Blueberry is a potent Indica hybrid. It’s best to use at night, as it can make you feel sluggish. Not only does this strain relieve eye pressure, but it also provides pain relief, helping you to get a good night's sleep.
  • Maui Waui — Maui Waui is a commonly used and popular Sativa. It treats eye pressure, pain, anxiety and depression. You feel happy and uplifted when you take this strain.
  • Cherry Kola — Cherry Kola is a potent Indica strain that treats eye pressure.

Neuroprotective/Painkilling/Inflammation

CBD and THC in cannabis can relieve nerve pain. They reduce brain inflammation and regulate pain signals in your body. The following strains have good levels of neuroprotective terpenes and should help with your pain:

  • SuperBud — SuperBud is an Indica strain that’s filled with terpenes. It’s said to have almost narcotic effects and can also boost your brain.
  • Jack Herer — Jack Herer is a Sativa-dominant hybrid. The strain is full of natural painkillers and reduces tissue inflammation and stress.
  • Sour Grape — Sour Grape is a hybrid strain that works on many levels. It can be used to treat nausea, pain and eye pressure, too.

Nausea and Vomiting

Nausea and vomiting attacks can be debilitating when you have glaucoma. The following medical pot strains can alleviate these symptoms:

  • Durban Poison — Durban Poison is a sweet sativa strain. You get an energetic and uplifting experience and can feel quite upbeat and creative. Your symptoms or nausea and/or vomiting subside, and you can go about your day as usual.
  • Trinity — Trinity relieves depression and stops you feeling nauseated. You may feel drowsy after having a creative and focused initial effect from this Sativa strain. Try it out and see how Trinity affects you.
  • Sour Diesel — Sour Diesel is an energizing Sativa. It’s a good replacement for a morning coffee and will make you feel focused and positive.
sour diesel

Best Methods of Marijuana Treatment for Glaucoma Symptoms

There are various ways to take medical cannabis for glaucoma relief. You may not want to smoke pot due to its negative health effects. There are so many more alternatives, though, and you’re sure to find the best method for you.

  • Vaping — Vaping brings you almost immediate relief. Bear in mind that you need to keep your vaping unit charged at all times. Also, the vaping kits can be expensive.
  • Juices — You can blend fresh, raw pot leaves with some fruit juice. Taking a drink every four hours or so will keep your symptoms at bay.
  • Edibles — Edibles take a little time to kick in. However, many people like to take these, as they are discreet. You can either make your own or purchase these ready-made.
  • Sprays — Sprays come in a variety of pleasant flavors and are also discreet to use.
  • Tinctures — Tinctures can be placed directly into your food and drinks, but can be expensive to buy.

To recap, pot’s ability to improve glaucoma symptoms has been demonstrated in various studies. Cannabis can:

  • Reduce intraocular pressure
  • Kill pain
  • Stop inflammation
  • Halt nausea and vomiting

Medical marijuana is a real alternative if you’re having difficulty with conventional glaucoma treatments and don’t like their side effects.

Choosing the right medical pot strain can be a case of trial and error. Everyone's experience will be slightly different. Medical marijuana could be for you if you’re searching for a means to gently and naturally alleviate your glaucoma symptoms. Search for a medical marijuana doctor or dispensary today to learn even more about cannabis and glaucoma.

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This information is not provided by medical professionals and is intended only to complement, and not to replace or contradict, any health or medical advice or information provided by healthcare professionals.  If you have any questions, please contact your doctor or other healthcare professional.

 

 

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