The use of cannabis as medicine is not something that happened overnight. There are records from 440 B.C. that relate to the everyday use of cannabis vapors among the Greeks. Despite having used marijuana for many years, they have not been able to discover the benefits fully.
However, most studies have shown that it has many benefits for our health. This has led many enthusiasts to boast of benefits that marijuana does not have. For example, the famous and false idea that cannabis cures glaucoma.
Researchers are not giving up hope and are still trying to prove this idea true. Increased research into the use of cannabinoids in commonly used treatments may provide new therapies for glaucoma patients. Read on to learn all about cannabis and this famous disease. You will learn everything you need to know about it.
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is an eye disease in which there is irreversible damage to the optic nerve. This is the nerve that collects the impulses by the vision and transmits them to the brain. This disease leads to progressive vision loss and blindness. In most cases, it is because of an increase in intraocular pressure. This refers to the pressure inside the eye. But it has nothing to do with blood pressure.
Glaucoma usually evolves without symptoms. Therefore, since it does not cause discomfort, the sufferer may consult a doctor when it is too late. Glaucoma usually affects both eyes. However, it can be more severe in one eye than in the other. It is the second leading cause of blindness in the world after cataracts.
Glaucoma is more frequent at older ages and has a particular hereditary component. The leading cause of glaucoma is the increase in pressure inside the eye (intraocular pressure).
Under normal conditions, intraocular pressure remains stable. This occurs because there is a balance between the production of aqueous humor and its elimination. Aqueous humor is a liquid from the eye that nourishes the cornea and lens. It also provides the necessary pressure to maintain the spherical shape of the eyeball. When its production increases or its outflow becomes difficult, intraocular pressure may increase.
Sometimes glaucoma is because of obstruction of the channel through which the aqueous humor is eliminated. This is angle-closure glaucoma. The obstruction may be of unknown cause or be the consequence of another disease:
- Hereditary (they are the most frequent cause).
- Ocular trauma.
- Severe eye infections.
- Obstruction of the blood vessels of the eye.
- Inflammatory diseases of the eye.
- Complications of previous eye surgery (cataract surgery, vitreous or retinal surgery).
The increase in pressure maintained over time can injure the eyeball at its weakest point. This is the area where the optic nerve exits, compressing and damaging the nerve cells. Depending on the number of dead nerve cells, more or less vision is lost. When the destruction is complete, blindness occurs.
Does Marijuana Help Treat Glaucoma?
There is currently no cure for glaucoma. Patients have to resort to drugs or operations that are not a permanent solution and carry risks. The current strategy to treat glaucoma is to reduce intraocular pressure, which is an effect of cannabis. This is thought to be due to the high concentration of CB1-type cannabinoid receptors in the areas responsible for the production and excretion of ocular fluid. When these receptors are on, outflow increases, and fluid inflow decreases.
Marijuana can also help treat glaucoma by preventing neurons from dying. Cannabis can inhibit the production of a molecule called glutamate. Glutamate affects the way neurons shut down, and its accumulation can cause neuronal damage. Glaucoma patients often have elevated levels of glutamate. So, cannabis could protect neurons in this case.
Cannabis use is thought to slow the progression of glaucoma by temporarily reducing its symptoms. However, the effects only last about 3 hours, after which you will have to consume again. Today we could say that this reason makes cannabis practically useless. But used as an analgesic, it can provide much-needed relief.
Is Marijuana an Effective Treatment for Glaucoma?
Some experiments have shown that THC reduces the production of water in the chamber and favors its flow. Along with the reduction of intraocular pressure, cannabinoids can promote nerve strengthening. On the one hand, there are cannabinoid receptors in the blood vessels. Also, cannabinoids dilate them so that they can improve blood flow.
On the other hand, they protect nerves by scavenging free radicals and inhibiting excessive glutamate production. The latter is a neurotransmitter produced in excess when blood flow is deficient with the consequent lack of oxygen and glucose supply. This contributes to creating a toxic environment that can lead to advanced degeneration of the optic nerve.
Therefore, cannabinoids can help in the case of normal pressure glaucoma. It is often also good to reduce intraocular pressure below typical values.
What Research Study Shows About Marijuana and Glaucoma
Studies from as early as 1971, almost 50 years ago, indicated that smoking cannabis reduces eye strain. This was one of the first indications that cannabinoids might have therapeutic benefits. It came at a time when there were still few treatments available for glaucoma.
A flurry of subsequent studies showed that THC was responsible for this effect. We now know that cannabinoids such as THC act by connecting to a signaling system in the body. One that includes cannabinoid receptors, but exactly how cannabinoids act in the body remains unknown.
Traditional Glaucoma Treatments
Glaucoma is a disease with no curative treatment; the treatment and follow-up of glaucoma patients prevent its progression. Also, avoid the development of severe and irreversible visual complications.
The first therapeutic step consists of controlling blood pressure with hypotensive eye drops. There are four major groups of drugs and various combinations of drugs in the same eye drops. So that even “aggressive” medical treatments can be easily achieved by instilling only 2 or 3 drops a day. If this fails to lower the blood pressure, it can be surgically controlled. This with modern minimally invasive techniques and even blood pressure regulating devices.
How Medical Marijuana Treats Glaucoma
Intraocular pressure (IOP) is what causes problems with glaucoma. Marijuana helps glaucoma by lowering IOP. Doing so reduces the pressure on the optic nerve and limits the damage it can cause. Medical experts found this effect in about 1970. It solidified medical marijuana’s reputation as a miracle treatment for the condition.
Since then, the therapeutic effects of cannabis have been further investigated. Although these studies are still in their infancy, we are not aware of all of the plant’s incredible benefits. But researchers have identified many other uses and treatments. In particular, marijuana is known to reduce pain and nausea, which are effects of glaucoma in some people.
How to Use Medical Marijuana for Glaucoma
One of the alternatives for the treatment of glaucoma is smoking marijuana, as this practice effectively lowers eye pressure. But the effects of marijuana on eye pressure only last for 3 to 4 hours. This means that to lower eye pressure at any given time. People need to smoke marijuana 6 to 8 times.
Another way to administer the active ingredient in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), is orally and under the tongue. These methods avoid the harmful effects that smoking marijuana has on the lungs. But are limited by other systemic side effects such as drowsiness and loss of judgment.
Marijuana’s Effect on Glaucoma
Cannabis can help you control the severe symptoms of some types of glaucoma, such as nausea and pain associated with the disease. Doctors agree that more clinical studies are needed to have more data regarding cannabis and glaucoma.
The dilemma is that eye pressure must be controlled 24 hours a day to avoid vision loss. This means that a glaucoma patient should be consuming around 18 to 20 milligrams of THC. Six to eight times a day. Also, not all patients can tolerate doses of this magnitude, which could cause drowsiness, lack of productivity, and be very costly.
Cannabinoids have been the object of study and have undergone significant development in recent years. They are used in diseases such as muscular spasticity, for movement disorders in Huntington’s chorea, or Parkinson’s disease. Also, in spinal cord injuries, as an antiemetic and for diseases such as glaucoma.
One of the most studied uses of cannabis is its topical administration as a treatment for glaucoma, which has been the main objective of this work. The treatment involves an increase in the secretion of aqueous humor through the uveoscleral pathway. This results in a decrease in the effects of the disease without the consequent appearance of systemic adverse effects.
In short, cannabinoids have been and are the object of research in numerous branches of medicine. The development achieved has been very successful. But their use outside of clinical trials is not yet possible since it is necessary to conduct more studies with more patients.