Florida Eye Center

Florida Eye Center

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Medical Director

Dr. Mark Sibley

Mark A. Sibley, MD, FACS
LASIK, Refractive, Cataract,
and Laser Specialist

Board Certified Eye Surgeon


Florida Eye Center
Phone: (727) 895-2020
1515 9th Avenue N.
St. Petersburg, FL 33705


Area Served
Tampa Bay Florida
Pinellas County Florida

Hillsborough County Florida
Manatee County Florida

Ask the Doctor

Should You Be Smoking Marijuana to Treat Your Glaucoma?

I am a glaucoma specialist. Every day one of my glaucoma patients asks me, "Hey Dr. Sibley, can I smoke marijuana to treat my glaucoma?"

First, let me stress that over 30 million people are affected by glaucoma. Second, glaucoma is an eye problem that can blind patients and it blinds millions every year.

Patients do not know they have glaucoma because there is no pain or pus and really no symptoms with glaucoma. The problem is when the pressure in the eye gradually and silently builds up until it starts killing the nerve. This kills the vision.

Treatment to prevent blindness involves lowering the eye pressure. The pressure inside the eye must be low enough to prevent further nerve damage. The higher the pressure, the faster the damage occurs, and the more the damage becomes permanent. This eye pressure must be measured in the eye exam on a regular basis, especially after age 40.

As a glaucoma specialist , I am glad that we have a number of treatments. The treatment might include starting eye drops to lower the pressure.. But the eye drops are expensive and are just liquid drugs with side-effects and are now usually replaced by the safer treatment called SLT (selective laser trabeculoplasty) glaucoma laser. This 5 minute SLT treatment has become so simple, safe and successful that we recommend it as the 1st treatment in most of our patients. The SLT laser results often last for years.

If nothing else works we may have to do actual surgery in the operating room as our last option. Sometimes all of our treatments are too little, too late. When treatments fail then both patients and physicians look for alternative therapies and other treatments.

So, what do I say when my glaucoma patients asks me, " Dr. Sibley, can I smoke marijuana to treat my glaucoma?"

Yes, This is a possible treatment alternative for glaucoma patients because smoking marijuana has been shown to lower the eye pressure.

Remember, the SLT glaucoma laser treatment results can last for years. Even the eyedrop can last for 24-hours. Unfortunately, however, marijuana's affect of lowering the eye pressure only lasts for 3-4 hours. That means that to lower the eye pressure every day around the clock would require smoking marijuana 6-8 times a day.

People have smoked marijuana for thousands of years and we all know marijuana's mood altering effects. These side effects would usually prevent the patient from driving, working, or even functioning at maximum mental capacity.

My patients remind me there are a few states that have legalized smoking marijuana for medical purposes including treating glaucoma. Florida is NOT one of them.

Sadly, marijuana cigarettes also contain hundreds of toxic compounds that damage the lungs. Scientists also fear that the chronic, frequent use of marijuana can damage the brain and memory and smoking decreases the good anti-oxidants that have been shown to help decrease cataracts, cancers, and aging.

The active ingredient of marijuana is THC. So instead of smoking pot, other ways to receive it include eating it and also dissolving it under the tongue. These two methods do avoid the harmful affect of marijuana smoke on the lungs, but have not reduced the other bothersome or unacceptable systemic side effects such as the drowsiness and loss of judgment and decrease in memory.

Other glaucoma specialists have used eye drops containing THC, but so far it has not been possible to deliver enough of the medicine in the drops to be effective in preventing blindness.

Marijuana does lower the eye pressure but it also lowers the blood pressure. Low blood pressure could result in reduced blood flow and reduced oxygen to the optic nerve. This may actually allow more harm to the optic nerve. Therefore, it is possible that while smoking the marijuana is lowering the eye pressure it could lower the blood pressure enough to make the vision loss from the glaucoma even worse. For this reason, marijuana cannot be recommended at this time.

In summary, marijuana can lower the eye pressure, but we cannot recommend marijuana in any of the forms for treatment of glaucoma at this time. It does not make sense given the side effects and short duration of the temporary affect.

Contact us today to schedule your appointment.

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