Updated: Aug 3, 2019
WHAT IS GLAUCOMA?
Glaucoma is a condition where the optic nerve may suffer irreversible damage from increased intraocular pressure caused by fluid buildup. The abnormally high pressure on the eye can disrupt the transmission of optic nerve fibers to the brain, resulting in vision impairment or blindness if left untreated. Symptoms include blind spots, tunnel vision, headaches, severe eye pain, nausea and vomiting, blurred vision, halos around lights, and redness in the eyes.
Primary open-angle glaucoma is the most common, often going undetected as symptoms usually won’t become noticeable until irreversible damage has occurred. Acute angle-closure glaucoma is less common, where the sudden onset of increased eye pressure rapidly increases, and is considered a medical emergency.
Glaucoma is a hereditary condition, making those at higher risk recommended to regularly see the ophthalmologist twice a year to check ocular pressure. However, anyone is susceptible, so periodic visits (every 2-3 years) to the ophthalmologist is advisable.
There is currently no known cure but catching glaucoma early is the key to preventing permanent vision impairment or blindness. Glaucoma is estimated to affect over 3 million people in the U.S. alone, but as high as half don’t even know they have it.
HOW CAN CANNABIS HELP?
Glaucoma is typically treated with eye drops or surgical procedures, depending on the severity of the condition, to decrease intraocular pressure and slow the progression. Cannabis has shown to lower intraocular pressure and also may act as a neuroprotectant, potentially inhibiting glaucoma advancement.
Cannabis has long been associated with treating glaucoma symptoms. This is due, in large part, to a 1971 study which concluded that smoking cannabis decreased intraocular pressure by an average of 25%. At the time, methods of consumption were limited as the study only cited the efficacy of smoking. As glaucoma treatment requires constant medicating, cannabis was deemed effective but limited for symptom management, due to its effects wearing off after 3-4 hours.
Evidence now suggests that glaucoma may also be a neurodegenerative disorder, based on a March 2007 review. This would indicate factors beyond just elevated eye pressure may contribute to the progression. Cannabis is widely known for itsneuroprotectant properties, which shows promise for glaucoma patients. However, more research is needed to make substantiated claims that cannabis can act as an inhibitor.
Neuropathic optic nerve pain, often resulting in severe headaches, is common in glaucoma during advanced stages. Through its analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties, cannabis can be used as a potent pain reliever and may reduce swelling of the optic nerve. Nausea and vomiting may be combatted through the anti-emetic effects of cannabis.
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