While you might have used the glaucoma joke, you might not even know what it is. Glaucoma is the gradual loss of vision – the leading cause of blindness in people over 60 – cased by damage to the optic nerve and comes in a few varieties. But, for the most part, the culprit is increased interocular pressure (IOP) caused by a build-up of fluid in the eye.
1. The connection
So, where did the connection between weed and glaucoma come from? The discovery of how cannabis can fight the symptoms of glaucoma came about as a happy accident. In the early Seventies, a group of UCLA researchers, led by Dr. Robert Hepler and Dr. Thomas Ungerleider, began a study on the “red eye” that is the side effect of getting elevated and pupil dilation, all in the hopes of helping the DEA find “stoners” during the early days of the War on Drugs. While nobody likes to assist rats, there was
While nobody likes to assist rats, there was a positive taking from the study, which was that THC reduced eye pressure by 25 to 30 percent. That early study led an FDA-approved glaucoma medication that is still being used.
2. The catch
Despite the reduction in pressure, the effect cannabis on interocular pressure lasts for about three hours. So, to be completely treated, you’d need to be elevated all day – that’s not a dare, either.
That’s why neither the American Association of Ophthalmology, American Glaucoma Society, nor the Glaucoma Research Foundation endorses the use of weed as a treatment. It’s not because they’re not cool with getting high, but because of a medical reason that should be noted, which is the lowered blood flow that can damage the optic nerve.
3. The future
If being elevated isn’t the key, just how can THC still help? That could come in the form of a topical treatment, which could do away with the elevation, but still be effective. While a THC eye drop has been tested, there are hurdles in the way, one of which is that THC best dissolves in alcohol or oil. But, you know, neither are liquids you want to put in your eyes.
There are saline-based eye drops, but those THC drops can’t yet deliver a powerful enough dose. And, the most important detail to take away from this is, topical THC can damage the surface of the eye. So, for the time being, small amounts of medication is the only way that weed can help with glaucoma.