Marijuana & Glaucoma: Risks, Alternatives & More
Last Updated Dec 2, 2021
Marijuana cannot treat glaucoma, although it can lower IOP. Researchers are looking into whether a useful treatment can be derived from the drug, but for the time being, it is not recommended as a treatment for glaucoma.
Marijuana may potentially worsen glaucoma because it can weaken the blood flow into already compromised elements of the eye.
How Does Marijuana Affect the Eyes
Marijuana can lower intraocular pressure (IOP) within the eyes and reduce blood pressure, which by extension can reduce the amount of blood flowing through the eye. Lower IOP is considered good for overall eye health, but reduced blood flow is not good, especially for eye health conditions where blood flow is already a concern.
This reduction in IOP lasts about three to four hours.
Why Marijuana Is Not a Good Treatment for Glaucoma
It is the official position of the American Glaucoma Society that marijuana cannot be recommended as a treatment for glaucoma, an opinion many experts share. While controlling IOP is a major aspect of glaucoma treatments, IOP must be kept in check at all times for the best possible results. Marijuana has a short duration of action that makes it insufficient for this purpose.
Marijuana also has various side effects that must be accounted for when considering it as a treatment option. It affects mood and motor function and prevents users from being able to safely perform many tasks, such as driving. It can also affect lung and brain health over time.
Perhaps most importantly, no study has found it to be a sufficient glaucoma treatment. Considering the above and without further evidence supporting its use to treat glaucoma, marijuana can’t be medically justified as a glaucoma treatment, even if one argues further studies should be conducted on its use for that purpose.
Origins of This Treatment Myth
The origin of the internet myth that marijuana can treat glaucoma is understandable. IOP is known to be a major component of glaucoma, and marijuana has been proven to lower IOP temporarily.
Furthermore, it is touted fairly often as an alternate treatment to a variety of health conditions, the support for which varies depending on the particular use case being discussed. Since marijuana has proven useful for some health conditions, people are eager to tout its benefits for glaucoma, but these claims are currently unfounded.
Eye Risks Associated With Marijuana
A 2021 study of cannabis found that smoking cannabis impairs vision, linking habitual cannabis use to lower visual acuity. Notably, that study was reluctant to make too many conclusions based on their findings, suggesting a number of ways follow-up studies could improve on its findings and produce more definitive conclusions.
Perhaps more importantly, the fact marijuana can lower blood pressure reduces or completely negates any small benefit it may provide as a glaucoma treatment. This reduction in blood pressure has the potential to affect blood flow to the eye enough that it may actually worsen a person’s glaucoma, although this potential hasn’t been significantly studied.
Does THC or CBD Help With Glaucoma?
THC and CBD, which come from cannabis, have not been shown to help with glaucoma. In fact, THC eye drops have not been found to lower IOP while also causing burning and irritation. In a similar vein, CBD may even increase eye pressure.
THC and CBD should not be used to treat glaucoma. They certainly should not be used in an attempt to replace doctor-recommended treatments.
With this said, researchers are interested in the ability of marijuana to lower IOP. The hope is they may be able to isolate this property and remove or reduce the associated side effects of marijuana. Whether this research results in the development of a new, evidence-based glaucoma treatment remains to be seen, but it is possible a treatment derived from marijuana may exist in the future.
Important to this discussion is the possibility of marijuana addiction. While many people who smoke marijuana don’t develop an addiction, some mistakenly believe it isn’t possible to develop a marijuana addiction, which isn’t true. The CDC notes that different studies have placed the rate of cannabis use disorder (CUD) among people who use marijuana between about 10 and 30 percent.
This risk of addiction is another reason to avoid using marijuana as a glaucoma treatment. Even if cannabis isn’t the most destructive drug a person can misuse, it still can have detrimental effects on a person’s health and well-being, especially if they lose control of their drug use. This is combined with the fact marijuana simply doesn’t treat glaucoma.
When to Seek Help
Whether you started using marijuana in an effort to improve health conditions or not, use can spiral out of control. If you feel you’ve lost control of your marijuana use, or it has started to impact your health or quality of life, you should seek help. By talking to an addiction specialist, you can develop a treatment plan to regain control over your life and stop your drug use.
Addiction of any kind is a serious issue and can damage a person’s relationships, finances, and more. The good news is that recovery is possible. In the case of marijuana, withdrawal symptoms tend to be mild, which is what many people consider one of the more difficult parts of the recovery process.
Addiction (Marijuana or Cannabis Use Disorder). (October 2020). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Does Marijuana Help Treat Glaucoma or Other Eye Conditions? (March 2021). American Academy of Ophthalmology.
Effects of Cannabis on Visual Function and Self-Perceived Visual Quality. (January 2021). Scientific Reports.
Glaucoma and Marijuana: What Ophthalmologists Want You to Know. (January 2019). University of Utah.
Position Statements. (October 2009). American Glaucoma Society.