Cannabis and Glaucoma: The Current Understanding

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Glaucoma blinds millions around the world every year. Some 10% of those receiving professional care experience vision loss according to the GRF (Glaucoma Research Foundation). There is no cure, no clear understanding, and no solution for what a devastating problem glaucoma can be.

The research and medical care focused on the factors that pressure the optic nerve. The focus seeks to reduce the level of Intraocular Pressure (IOP) that risks damage to the optic nerve eventually corrupting its connection with the retina. Non-traditional approaches have used cannabis to successfully reduce that IOP.

Cannabis and Glaucoma: The Current Understanding

Glaucoma offers no overt signals live pain, so many people suffer and develop glaucoma without knowing it until their vision starts to deteriorate. Because it typically increases with age, “In terms of Social Security benefits, lost income tax revenues, and health care expenditures, the cost to the U.S. government is estimated to be over $1.5 billion annually” (GRF).

The World Health Organization says glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world. And, for some unknown reason, “Blindness from glaucoma is 6 to 8 times more common [15 times more likely] in African Americans than Caucasians” (GRF).

Types of glaucoma

  • Acute angle-closure glaucoma presents as a medical emergency needing immediate care. Something suddenly blocks the flow of aqueous humor between the iris and lens. It causes severe pain, blurred vision, and halos around lights.
  • Chronic-angle glaucoma produces damage slowly without symptoms in the early stages.
  • Open-angle glaucoma is the most common form affecting 95% of victims without symptoms until peripheral vision weakens. It is most prevalent among those with African or Hispanic ancestry.
  • Related conditions include Iridocorneal Endothelial Syndrome (ICE syndrome).      Neovascular, pigmentary, and pseudoexfoliation syndrome.

Standard treatment

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) points out, “Glaucoma damage is permanent—it cannot be reversed.” But, it has been treated with medication and surgery designed to reduce the IOP.

  • Medications include Prostaglandin Analogs, Beta Blockers, Alpha Agonists, Carbonic Anhydrase Inhibitors (CAIs), and Rho Khinase Inhibitors. Many patients are treated with a combination of prescribed medications, all of which may have side effects.
  • Surgical approaches include Trabeculoplasty, Iridotomy, and interocular drainage devices. Trabeculoplasty uses a laser to widen the IOP flow angle and reduce the pressure. Iridotomy creates a tiny hole in the iris with laser treatment to improve fluid flow. Or, intraocular drainage devices are inserted to provide an option for drainage

Non-standard treatment

Research studies dating back forty years have sought to examine the connection between cannabis and glaucoma. Much of that research has been prompted and sustained by the generations of anecdotal reports crediting glaucoma symptom relief to cannabis.

Most of the research has focused on animal studies, and human studies have been very small in scope. All these studies attribute a reduction in IOP to cannabis intake although they do not understand the mechanism of action. Most of these studies attribute the change in pressure to THC. And, most conclude that, while there is a positive influence, the improvement is not sustainable.

All the research fails to acknowledge that cannabis use avoids the side-effects presented by glaucoma medications and the risks of ocular surgery. So, we are left to recommend cannabis strains that users find helpful in their care.

Cannabis strains for glaucoma relief

  1. Maui Waui brings the beach to you with its tropical flavors. Despite a hefty THC of 15-20%, it works for first-time users who worry about being stoned. This Sativa lifts mood and energy, and it works well for anxiety, depression, glaucoma, pain, and more.
  2. Rollex OG Kush is an Indica-dominant strain with a potent 20-23% THC. Its cerebral and borderline psychoactive effects manage the headaches and fatigue that often accompany glaucoma.
  3. Blueberry has long charmed uses with its sweet blueberry flavor. As a powerful painkiller, it is recommended for those suffering pain associated with acute glaucoma. Indica-dominant, it is also heavy in THC and low in CBD to create a brain and body sense of euphoria and calm.
  4. Santa Sativa is a Sativa-dominant hybrid with a moderate THC load. Cannabis users recommend Santa Sativa for the treatment of nausea, vomiting, and chronic pain associated with chronic-angle glaucoma.
  5. Headband provides hours of relaxation combined with its pain-killing properties. It may be a bit much for first-time users, but Headband will make you forget your glaucoma. An Indica-dominant hybrid with up to 24% THC, it will leave you spaced out and pain-free.
  6. Hashplant Haze will lower IOP, but it also reduces pain and stress. Rich in THC, its effects creep on you from the back of your eyes to a full couch-lock.
  7. Purple Kush is used worldwide for its rich flavors and aromas. This is best used at home before bed. The 22% THC is not recommended for novice smokers, but Purple Kush does product a pain-free, numbing body high.
  8. LAPD is an evenly balanced 50/50 hybrid. With 24-26% THC, LAPD guarantees physical calm and relaxation as well as pain relief to those suffering from glaucoma.
  9. Mad Dawg is a relaxing hybrid with sparks of its 24% THC. It’s enough to lift spirits and take your mind off things as you progress to full couch-lock mind and body relaxation.
  10. Painkiller #3 is an Indica-dominant hybrid with its share of THC (20%) and a load of CBD (20%). Tasting and smelling of herbs and spices, it will wipe out cerebral aches and pains and leave you with a fully sedated body.

Depending on the status of your glaucoma, you want to pay attention to the cannabis side-effects of dry and red eyes. Such effects see counter-productive in treating glaucoma.

What you can take away

Overwhelming anecdotal reports demand attention. In treatment of a condition with unknown causes and limited treatment options, cannabis is worth inclusion in any therapy regimen. Glaucoma patients should investigate whether their choice of cannabis strain is contra-indicated by their prescription regimen. And, admitting that cannabis effects have time limits, glaucoma patients should choose strains consistent with their care schedule and life/work balance.