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What MMJ Patients Need to Know About Cannabis for Glaucoma

More and more is becoming known about marijuana’s potential benefits for conditions ranging from insomnia to back pain, but what about weed for glaucoma? Glaucoma is an eye condition that develops when the optic nerve becomes damaged over time. This optic nerve damage is usually due to an elevated level of intraocular pressure (IOP). In the United States, the most common type of glaucoma is primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG).

Because this condition causes a loss of peripheral vision and can even lead to blindness, it's important to treat glaucoma and reduce intraocular pressure. Smoking marijuana or consuming other cannabis-based products may help temporarily with IOP reduction. Medical marijuana can also help to alleviate some of the other symptoms that tend to accompany glaucoma, such as chronic pain, stress, depression, and insomnia.

While many people take MMJ for glaucoma, there are several things glaucoma patients should know before self-treating with cannabis.


Benefits of Cannabis for Glaucoma


Why is cannabis good for glaucoma? Studies have shown that cannabinoids can be effective in temporarily reducing intraocular pressure. Cannabinoids may also encourage blood flow to the eye and offer neuroprotective effects. Debate remains in the scientific and medical communities about how effective and safe marijuana is as a long-term treatment of glaucoma.

The following are a few key studies regarding marijuana’s effects on glaucoma symptoms:

Reduced IOP

  • There is evidence to suggest that marijuana can lower eye pressure by about 25 percent for two to four hours.

  • Five randomized controlled trials analyzed in a 2019 review found evidence that marijuana could lower IOP. It's worth noting that the effects of cannabis on IOP weren’t compared with the effects of traditional IOP-lowering glaucoma medications in these trials.

  • It has been suggested that marijuana provides just as much relief from glaucoma as the pharmaceuticals that were routinely prescribed in the 1970s. However, newer drugs may be even more effective and carry fewer side effects than MMJ.

Increased Blood Flow and Neuroprotective Effects

  • Animal studies show that cannabis may encourage blood flow to the eye and provide neuroprotective effects that prevent nerve damage and reduce the effects of glaucoma. This echoes research that suggests the endocannabinoid system may play a role in protecting against retinal neurodegeneration.

Main Concerns

Though many studies agree with the claim that marijuana reduces IOP, it's generally understood that the effects are short-lived. There is also a concern that decreased blood pressure due to marijuana consumption may also reduce blood flow to the optic nerve, which is already compromised in glaucoma patients. These two concerns have led to debate about whether marijuana is a viable long-term solution for the treatment of glaucoma.


Professional Guidance Is Essential

If you are searching for alternative therapies or are interested in learning how cannabis could complement your current glaucoma therapy regime, consult your doctor first to ensure that taking cannabis alongside your current medications won’t cause any problems.

Due to the potential benefits, glaucoma is listed as a qualifying condition for a medical marijuana card in many states, including Arizona. An MMJ card gives glaucoma patients in AZ access to medical-grade marijuana excise-tax-free.

Making an initial in-person or online MMJ appointment with the Green Leaf team will allow Arizona-based patients to understand the benefits of an MMJ card and how cannabis can best be integrated into their glaucoma treatment plan. If approved, patients will need to renew their MMJ card every two years.


Best Strains to Relieve Eye Pressure


Certain sativa, indica, and hybrid strains are thought to be effective in lowering IOP. These strain recommendations are anecdotal in nature and you should still consult an MMJ doctor before self-medicating with marijuana cigarettes, pre-rolls, concentrates, or any other cannabis products.


Indica Strains for Intraocular Pressure

Indica strains tend to have relaxing effects and are popular for evening use. These strains may be helpful if the pressure and discomfort in your eye make it hard for you to fall asleep.

Popular indica strains among glaucoma patients include:

  • Grand Hindu: This is a strain that offers relaxation, euphoria, and energizing effects, making it suitable for either daytime or nighttime use. Grand Hindu is commonly used to treat insomnia, migraines, and chronic pain as well as to reduce IOP in glaucoma patients. This is a potent strain with around 20% THC.

  • Blueberry: This is a popular strain that’s renowned for its pain-relieving properties. As glaucoma can cause debilitating pain, Blueberry is a great choice for reducing pain and discomfort. Blueberry has around 18% THC and a delicious fruity flavor.

  • Cherry Kola: This strain reduces IOP as well as stress, pain, and headaches. With around 22-25% THC, Cherry Kola is a potent strain with a sweet berry aroma and flavor.

Patients who aren’t sure where to start can ask for advice from their doctor or in their local medical dispensary about indica strains that may be beneficial for their specific symptoms.


Sativa Strains for Intraocular Pressure

Sativa strains are typically more energizing and invigorating than indica strains and are popular for daytime use. Sativa-dominant strains could offer relief from elevated IOP as well as other side effects of glaucoma like inflammation, nausea, and headaches.

The following sativa strains could be a good place to start:

  • Tesla Tower: This strain offers uplifting effects that are said to relieve pain, fatigue, and eye pressure. Tesla Tower has an average of 22% THC and a sweet and fruity aroma.

  • Hashplant Haze: This is an energizing strain that is said to lower IOP, relieve pain, and calm stress. Hashplant Haze is a fruity strain with an average 18-21% THC content.

  • Santa Sativa: This strain offers various benefits like pain relief and uplifting effects as well as being effective in treating nausea and appetite loss. This strain has around 16-21% THC.

Hybrid Strains for Intraocular Pressure

Hybrid strains offer very different effects depending on the makeup of the strain. Generally, sativa-dominant strains tend to be more energizing whereas indica-dominant strains tend to be more relaxing.

Hybrid strains that could offer benefits for IOP and other glaucoma symptoms include:

  • LAPD: This is a 50/50 hybrid mix with a calming and relaxing effect that may offer pain relief and help with sleep. This strain has a high THC content of around 24-26%.

  • Mad Dawg: This strain is most famous for treating headaches and migraines and may be effective for patients suffering from glaucoma pain. This is an uplifting strain with 18-24% THC.


Indica or Sativa for Glaucoma?


Both indica and sativa as well as hybrid strains can be beneficial for patients suffering from glaucoma. As

always, finding the perfect strain will come down to experimentation, as each person has different preferences and may experience distinct reactions to different strains.

This said, there are a few rules of thumb that patients can follow when choosing a strain:

  • Day or night? Patients who wish to improve their sleep should tend toward indica strains whereas patients who need a boost to get through the day may prefer sativas.

  • Which symptoms are you looking to alleviate? Though many glaucoma patients use cannabis to reduce IOP, others may use it to control symptoms like pain and discomfort, depression, or insomnia. Indica strains are said to be more effective for insomnia and pain.

  • Do you need motivation or relaxation? Having a chronic, debilitating medical condition like glaucoma can have a devastating effect on patients' mental health and mood. Both indica and sativa strains can help regulate mood; patients often prefer sativa-leaning cannabis strains for depression whereas indica strains are better for stress and insomnia.


Do Edibles Help with Glaucoma?


According to the evidence presented in the article Marijuana as Medicine?: The Science Behind the Controversy, both smoked and eaten marijuana are effective in reducing IOP. Glaucoma patients who wish to avoid marijuana smoking may therefore have a solid alternative in edibles.


Seek Medical Guidance on Cannabis for Glaucoma


Cannabis appears to reduce glaucoma-related IOP in the short term with additional benefits for pain, discomfort, mood, and sleep. Certain strains are claimed to be especially helpful for reducing eye pressure and providing general relief.

Because glaucoma is a serious condition that can lead to vision loss, it’s critical to consult a glaucoma specialist about cannabis use and how it could complement other medical treatments. Though there is evidence that cannabis can reduce IOP, patients may wish to follow a more traditional route long-term, supplemented with medical marijuana under the supervision of an experienced MMJ doctor.

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