Can the use of Medical Marijuana make living with Glucoma Manageable?
Most people spell the medical condition glucome, “glaucoma”, and that is the right way to spell it. We noticed that some people where spelling it without the “a”. So in order for this message to reach a wider audience, and reach those in need, we will use the misspelled version of glaucome for this article only. Expect to see lots of “Glucoma”!
Glucoma ranks second among the dangerous degenerative diseases of the eye. In Canada alone, it affects almost 400,000 individuals from different age groups. Considering worldwide statistics, almost 67 million people have been affected by this disease. Being a hereditary disease, glucoma systematically damages the optic nerve due to abnormally high retention of fluids within the eye.
Types of glucoma
glucoma has three different forms that affect individuals based on various risk factors. These include ethnicity, family history, any previous injury to the eye, myopia, old age and diabetes.
• Open angle glucoma is said to be the most common type of degenerative eye disease, affecting almost 250,000 Canadians. If glucoma goes undiagnosed and is not treated on time, the individual slowly starts to lose peripheral vision, which later develops into loss of tunnel vision if the disease progresses to an advanced stage. Severe glucoma can ultimately lead to permanent loss of vision.
• A small percentage of people are affected with primary acute closed angle glucoma. This is the most dangerous form of the disease, involving blockage of the drainage passage which drains excess fluids from the iris. Thus, the constricted flow of the fluid raises the intraocular fluid level to a point where it starts damaging the optic nerve.
• Secondary glucoma is more of a symptom rather than a separate form of the disease. It may occur due to an eye injury in the past, diabetes or as a post-surgery complication. This type of condition may also result from the use of certain medications.
The Origin of Marijuana as a Potential Treatment for Glucoma
Over the years, marijuana has gained a reputation for being a recreational drug. But in the early seventies, this perception changed when marijuana’s medicinal properties came to be known.
Marijuana originated from the plant Cannabis sativa, which belongs to the hemp family. Over 400 various chemical compounds are found in this plant. When it comes to treating glucoma, the two most important chemical groups are the cannabinoids and tetrahydrocannabidiol (THC). THC is regarded as the prime psychoactive chemical.
The very first study was carried out in the seventies. It investigated the relationship of medicated marijuana with the reduction of intraocular pressure in the eyes of glucoma patients. After establishing a negative correlation, the medicinal properties of marijuana came into light, and the production of marijuana for medical purposes started to gain popularity. Today, medical marijuana has been legalized as a prescription drug in many countries such as Canada, Finland, Amsterdam, Israel, Italy, Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, Spain and the Netherlands.
Managing glucoma with the Use of Medical Marijuana
It was in the 70’s that researchers discovered the potential use of marijuana for treating glucoma. It was seen that the drug could lower the intraocular pressure in the eye. Experimental studies were carried out on glucoma patients with the approval of The National Eye Institute. The outcome of the studies was quite successful, and results indicated that smoking medical marijuana dramatically reduced the intraocular pressure in patients who were diagnosed with glucoma, as well as those who had normal eye pressure.
The Downside to Choosing Marijuana as a Treatment Option
Despite the fact that smoking medical marijuana lowered the intraocular pressure in glucoma patients, its use has been extremely controversial.
Critics who oppose the use of medical marijuana claim that it cannot be used as a standalone method for treating glucoma effectively. They argue that smoking medical marijuana causes a decrease in blood pressure, which in turn decreases the intraocular pressure in glucoma patients. They also claim that this effect is temporary and barely lasts for 3-4 hours, making it mandatory for the patient to smoke marijuana at least eight times a day. Thus, such a high intake of marijuana will do more harm than good.
In 2009, a study conducted by the American glucoma Society confirmed that the cannabinoid compounds found in medical marijuana could help in decreasing intraocular pressure in glucoma sufferers. But marijuana as a treatment plan for glucoma was not recommended by the American glucoma Society because the side effects of consistent marijuana use outweighed the health benefits it had to offer.
Furthermore, use of medical marijuana not only gives the user a temporary ‘feel good’ buzz, but it causes a considerable increase in heart rate as well. Consistent intake of medical marijuana is also known to impair the user’s short term memory, decrease appetite and slow down the immune system. Extensive research on medical marijuana suggests that excessive consumption also contributes to a lack of testosterone in men.
An independent study carried out by a medical dispensary called Medicine in Bloom stated that intraocular pressure in more than 80% of glucoma patients was reduced by 16% – 45% when they smoked medical marijuana using ice cold water pipes. The significant drop in the intraocular pressure was due to the active agent, tetrahydrocannabidiol. The results also stated that medical marijuana could be used along with other medications upon seeking medical advice from the ophthalmologist, in order to keep the intraocular pressure under control. Once the pressure is maintained at an ideal level, there would be no need for any surgical procedure to treat glucoma.
However, the most dangerous side effect of marijuana is that its excessive usage could lead to addiction, which is why using marijuana even for medical purposes is usually discouraged. Almost 9% of people using marijuana as a treatment for some conditions end up getting addicted to the drug. Surveys have shown that a larger proportion of individuals in drug rehab facilities are usually marijuana addicts.
Controversial Opinions on Treating glucoma with Medical Marijuana
As mentioned, many controversies exist on the use of medical marijuana as an alternative and effective long-term treatment for glucoma.
One such medical marijuana dispensary that advocated the use of the controversial drug for medical purposes was the Denver Relief Dispensary. An article titled ‘glucoma and Cannabis’ was published on its website, stating that the consumption of medical marijuana was quite effective in lowering the intraocular pressure and thus preventing blindness in the long run. The content of the article also suggested that the tetrahydrocannabidiol and cannabidiol present in marijuana were known to be more beneficial than the synthetic cannabinoids used in pharmaceutical grade medications designed to treat glucoma.
On the other hand, the article ‘Medical Marijuana’, published by the Glaucoma Research Foundation on 24th April, 2012 opposed the use of medical marijuana. This article stated that medical marijuana and hemp products used to lower the intraocular pressure in glucoma sufferers was not as effective as pharmaceutical drugs prescribed by ophthalmologists. This conclusion was drawn by taking into account the fact that the individual was required to smoke medical marijuana almost every three hours to produce a clinically substantial effect. The article also focused on the fact that consuming marijuana, either orally or by smoking regularly for long periods of time, could expose the user to a wide variety of dangerous side effects.
Another report by the title of ‘Complementary Therapy Assessment: Marijuana in the Treatment of glucoma’, published online by The American Academy of Ophthalmology Complementary Therapy Task Force, suggested that there was no adequate scientific information that could prove the effectiveness of smoking medical marijuana as treatment for glucoma.
The Account of a Patient
Elvy Musikka, a patient diagnosed with glucoma in 1975, also confirmed the benefits of using medical marijuana to treat glucoma in the Federal Compassionate IND Program (YouTube video uploaded on 28th May, 2010). He stated that marijuana was the only course of treatment left for him to try when nothing else worked. He stated that out of its many benefits, medical marijuana decreased the frequent headaches associated with glucoma. Once he started smoking medical marijuana, he did not feel the need to take any other medication to treat the recurring headaches.
After taking into account all findings and arguments of the above mentioned studies, one cannot be sure whether using medical marijuana will, in fact, yield promising results when it comes to treating glucoma. But medical marijuana can definitely be used an alternative treatment for treating glucoma after seeking medical advice.