Glaucoma refers to a group of diseases that affect the optic nerve and involve loss of retinal ganglion cells in a characteristic pattern. It is a type of optic neuropathy. Raised intraocular pressure is a significant risk factor for developing glaucoma (above 22 mmHg or 2.9 kPa). One person may develop nerve damage at a relatively low pressure, while another person may have high eye pressure for years and yet never develop damage. Untreated glaucoma leads to permanent damage of the optic nerve and resultant visual field loss, which can progress to blindness.
Glaucoma can be divided roughly into two main categories, “open angle” and “closed angle” glaucoma. Angle closure can appear suddenly and is often painful. Visual loss can progress quickly but the discomfort often leads patients to seek medical attention before permanent damage occurs. Open angle, chronic glaucoma tends to progress more slowly and the patient may not notice that they have lost vision until the disease has progressed significantly.
Glaucoma has been nicknamed the “sneak thief of sight” because the loss of vision normally occurs gradually over a long period of time and is often only recognized when the disease is quite advanced. Once lost, this damaged visual field can never be recovered. Worldwide, it is the second leading cause of blindness. Glaucoma affects one in two hundred people aged fifty and younger, and one in ten over the age of eighty. If the condition is detected early enough it is possible to arrest the development or slow the progression with medical and surgical means.
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Over 4 million people in America suffer from Glaucoma, which is an eye disease that is the leading cause of blindness in the United States. Numerous studies have been done on the effect of marijuana as treatment for glaucoma. While there are differing reports, there is strong evidence that marijuana is a very effective treatment for many people.
At UCLA controlled studies were done showing that patients smoking marijuana have a 30% drop in eye pressure on average. The reduction was related to the dose taken and generally provided relief for 4 to 5 hours. Dr. Robert Hepler, who was the principal investigator in the UCLA study came to the conclusion that cannabis may be more useful than conventional medications and may reduce eye pressure in a way other medications can’t, thus making marijuana a potential additive to a persons regimen.
One of the major problems with conventional medications is people generally build up a tolerance to them. Use of marijuana may provide a secondary source of relief allowing patients to vary their treatment which could eliminate the need for surgical intervention.
Treatment of Glaucoma with medical marijuana tends to affect different people in various ways and is more effective in some people then others. We suggest to our patients that they try it and see how it works for them, then discuss with their physicians how it may or may not become part of their regimen.