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
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
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