Let’s talk about medical cannabis for glaucoma

Karen Berger, PharmD, Medical Writer

What is glaucoma?Glaucoma is a disease caused by fluid buildup in the front part of the eye. This extra fluid increases the pressure in your eye, causing damage to the optic nerve. Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in people over 60 years old. 

What are the two types of glaucoma?

  • Primary open-angle glaucoma: 
    • This type is more common and occurs gradually. 
    • It is painless, and there is no change in the vision at first. 
  • Angle-closure glaucoma (or narrow-angle glaucoma): 
    • This type is less common. In this kind of glaucoma, the iris blocks the drainage angle. The eye pressure can quickly rise (called an acute attack) when the drainage angle becomes completely blocked. 
    • You may experience symptoms of blurry vision, eye pain, headache, nausea, vomiting, and seeing rings and halos. These symptoms can indicate an emergency and require immediate medical treatment. It can cause blindness if it is not treated right away. 

What are the statistics? 

  • Over 3 million people in the US have glaucoma. Of these, only half know they have it.
  • Over 120,000 people in the US are blind due to glaucoma, accounting for 9-12% of cases of blindness.
  • Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide.
  • African Americans are at higher risk: blindness is six to eight times more common in African Americans than Caucasians. 
  • People over 60, patients with a family history of glaucoma, patients with diabetes, and severely nearsighted people are also at a higher risk. 
  • Worldwide, there are over 60 million cases of glaucoma. 
  • Glaucoma has a sizable economic impact, accounting for 10 million doctor visits yearly, and costing more than $1.5 billion to the US government every year.

What are the symptoms? 

With open-angle glaucoma, symptoms are not noticeable at first. Instead, there will be a gradual decline in vision. Thus, it is imperative to get regular eye exams. 

Patients with acute narrow-angle glaucoma may experience the following symptoms. These symptoms can indicate a medical emergency and require immediate treatment to reduce the risk of blindness.

  • Severe pain in the eye
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sudden visual disturbance
  • Blurry vision
  • Seeing halos or rings around light
  • Redness in the eye

Patients with chronic narrow-angle glaucoma will not have symptoms at first. Again, it is essential to get regular eye exams. 

What is the usual treatment for glaucoma? 

  • Prescription eye drops lower pressure in the eye by helping the fluid drain and/or decreasing the amount of fluid that the eye makes.
  • Surgery

Can medical marijuana help with the symptoms of glaucoma?

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, medical cannabis is not an adequate treatment for glaucoma. The reason is that glaucoma treatment requires 24-hour a day management of eye pressure, and we don’t quite know the exact effects of cannabis on eye pressure and glaucoma—there is not enough research yet. Also, you would likely have to take very high doses of high-THC cannabis (which could cause significant side effects and make it hard to function) frequently to possibly achieve this type of control. 

Despite this recommendation, many state medical marijuana programs list glaucoma as a qualifying condition. We recommend that you follow the advice of your ophthalmologist regarding appropriate treatment for your situation. Medical cannabis can be part of your treatment plan, but should never replace the advice of your highly trained ophthalmologist. Cannabis should not replace treatments such as prescription eye drops or surgery. 

The bottom line

The best way to control glaucoma and prevent vision loss is to lower the pressure in your eye(s) with prescription eye drops or surgery. Your ophthalmologist can provide you with the best recommendation for treatment. 

At MyCureAll, we understand that medical cannabis is useful for symptoms of many conditions. Often, patients can replace medications with cannabis, such as in the case of opioids. However, glaucoma is one instance where medical cannabis is not appropriate as a sole treatment but can be useful as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. 

What is MyCureAll doing?

The team at MyCureAll continues to work to get medical cannabis covered by insurance. Sign our change.org petition

Visit our Shopify store! We offer a full selection of CBD products for all of your needs. All of our products are pharmacist-formulated and extensively tested for purity. 

References:

 

Glaucoma Facts and Stats. Glaucoma Research Foundation. https://www.glaucoma.org/glaucoma/glaucoma-facts-and-stats.php 

Accessed July 27, 2020. 

 

American Academy of Ophthalmology. What is Glaucoma? https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/what-is-glaucoma 

Accessed July 27, 2020.

 

American Academy of Ophthalmology. Does Marijuana Help Treat Glaucoma or Other Eye Conditions? https://www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/medical-marijuana-glaucoma-treament  Accessed July 27, 2020.

American Academy of Ophthalmology. CBD Oil May Worsen Glaucoma https://www.aao.org/eye-health/news/cbd-oil-may-worsen-glaucoma   Accessed July 27, 2020.