Will Marijuana Fix My Medical Problem?
Welcome to Doctors’ Notes, our newest contribution from Urban Health correspondents and husband and wife physicians Dr. Rob and Dr. Karla Robinson. The dynamic duo will be fielding questions about health, as it relates to African Americans. Please feel free to send them questions via firstname.lastname@example.org. We promise to keep it anonymous.
Question: I’m 35 years old and was recently diagnosed with glaucoma. I’ve been told it can lead to blindness, but I’m not sure how to prevent it. I have been prescribed some eye drops but I remember hearing that marijuana works. I’m afraid to lose my vision. Could smoking weed really help?
Dr. Karla says:
Your story is not unusual. An estimated 3 million people are living with glaucoma in this country and over half of them have no idea they have it. Unfortunately, we are at particular risk for complications of this disease as it tends to be more aggressive, strike earlier, and is more likely to cause blindness in our community.
Glaucoma in its most common form is a condition whereby fluid does not drain from the eye properly, leading to increased pressure inside of the eye (intraocular pressure or IOP). This increased pressure, can damage the optic nerve, responsible for sending the images we see to the brain. If damage to the optic nerve continues, glaucoma will cause permanent loss of vision. Without any treatment, this can happen quickly. This makes early detection and proper treatment so important and is why we need glaucoma screening every one to two years after the age of 35.
Treating glaucoma properly and consistently is the only way to prevent the devastating complication of vision loss. The mainstay of treatment continues to be eye drops, laser therapy and surgery. While we agree with herbal remedies when appropriate, and recognize some benefits of medical marijuana for certain conditions, glaucoma is not one of those that will make the cut.
Dr. Rob says:
What you have heard is true. Research has shown that marijuana does help to lower pressure in the eye, but that effect is short lived and only lasts about three hours or so. Therefore, in order to effectively treat glaucoma you would have to smoke nearly eight times per day! This would obviously not leave much room for accomplishing anything else throughout the day.
Just in case that sounds tempting, it also isn’t an appropriate treatment for glaucoma for other reasons. As more research become available, there is now increasing evidence that reduced blood flow to the optic nerve may play a role in glaucoma. While marijuana lowers pressure in the eye, it also tends to lower blood pressure throughout the body as well. As a result, it can decrease blood flow to the optic nerve, thereby worsening glaucoma and counteracting any temporary benefit there may have been.
Glaucoma is just one of the many things threatening the vision of African Americans. Diabetes, uncontrolled high blood pressure and cataracts are also leading causes of blindness in our community. Unfortunately, eye health is often neglected and we don’t realize how important it is until after our vision has been affected. Let’s continue to educate one another on the importance of eye health so we can preserve our vision and continue to look towards our future.
It’s a health thing…we’ve got to understand!
About the Doctors:
Dr. Karla and Dr. Rob are the founders of Urban Housecall Magazine and host the Urban Housecall Radio Show. For more from the doctors, visit their website at www.urbanhousecallmagazine.com, like them on Facebook UrbanHousecallMagazine, and follow them on Twitter @urbanhousecall!