NJ Specialist on Glaucoma & Medical Marijuana

Eye Care & Surgery Center NJ Bladeless LASIK Laser Cataract Surgeon Blog

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

NJ Specialist on Glaucoma & Medical Marijuana

Medical marijuana is promoted as a treatment for many diseases, including glaucoma. NJ Glaucoma Specialist Roslyn Stahl, M.D. of The Eye Care & Surgery Center in Westfield, Warren & Iselin, New Jersey discussed medical marijuana and glaucoma. “Glaucoma is an eye disease in which the optic nerve becomes damaged over time, reducing peripheral vision. If not properly diagnosed and treated it can lead to blindness. One cause of the optic nerve damage in glaucoma is higher-than-normal pressure within the eye, called intraocular pressure or IOP,” explained Dr. Stahl. “Currently glaucoma treatment for the most part is to lower IOP levels with eye drops, laser treatment, oral medications and sometimes surgery depending on the type of glaucoma and how severe it is.”

The idea that marijuana can be helpful in treating glaucoma dates to the 1970s. Studies conducted then showed that smoking marijuana lowered the IOP of people with glaucoma. As a result of this research, additional studies were conducted examining whether marijuana or its active ingredient, a compound known as THC, could be used to keep IOP lowered. This research was supported by the National Eye Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health. The research found that when marijuana is smoked or when a form of its active ingredient is taken as a pill or by injection, it does lower IOP. However, it only lowers IOP for a short period of time-about three or four hours. This short period of time is a major drawback for the use of marijuana as a glaucoma treatment. Because glaucoma needs to be treated 24 hours a day, you would need to smoke marijuana six to eight times a day around the clock to receive the benefit of a consistently lowered IOP. Because of marijuana's mood-altering effect, smoking so much of it daily would leave you too impaired to drive, operate equipment or function at the peak of your mental ability.

The effect that marijuana has on your ability to function is not the only side effect from the drug, however. Marijuana cigarettes contain hundreds of compounds that damage the lungs. Research has shown that regular and frequent use of marijuana, particularly in high doses, can cause problems with short-term memory and concentration.

As scientists learn more about glaucoma, they have also come to understand that IOP is not the only factor that damages the optic nerve. Recent studies characterize glaucoma as a neurologic disease similar to Parkinson's or Alzheimer's. And, there is increasing evidence that reduced flow of blood to the optic nerve may also cause damage in patients with glaucoma. Unfortunately, marijuana not only lowers IOP, but it lowers blood pressure throughout the body. As a result, it has the potential to lower the blood flow to the optic nerve, effectively canceling out the benefit of a lowered IOP. So, while marijuana can temporarily lower your IOP, it's not recommended for treating glaucoma. Prescription medications, laser and surgical treatments have been tested and proven as effective treatments for the glaucoma.

If you or someone you know has questions about eye exams, glaucoma and medical marijuana feel free to call The Eye Care & Surgery Center at 908-789-8999, visit The Eye Care & Surgery Center or facebook.com/eyecareandsurgerycenter to schedule an appointment.

The Eye Care & Surgery Center is staffed by a team of Board Certified NJ Ophthalmologists who are subspecialty Fellowship trained New Jersey eye surgeons, Opticians, technical and administrative staff who provide eye examinations for adults and children, surgery for cataracts, intraocular lens implants (IOL), laser vision correction such as LASIK, diagnosis and treatment of cornea disease including cornea transplants, diagnosis and treatment of diseases of the retina including diabetes and age related macular degeneration (AMD) and diagnosis and treatment of glaucoma, reconstructive and cosmetic facial surgery including eyelid surgery and facial and skin rejuvenation as well as contact lenses, eyeglasses, eyewear  and optical services.

With locations in Westfield and Warren and Iselin, The Eye Care & Surgery Center is a leading NJ eye care practice serving the central and northern New Jersey including Old Bridge, East Brunswick, Sayreville, Milltown, North Brunswick, Kendall Park, Somerset, Dunellen, Bridgewater, Manville, Bound Brook, Raritan, Edison, Colonia, Woodbridge, Metuchen, Avenel, Carteret, Piscataway, Middlesex, Somerville, South Plainfield, North Plainfield, Roselle Park, Garwood, Clark, Kenilworth, Cranford, Gillette, Berkeley Heights, Stirling, Scotch Plains, Summit, Chatham, Watchung, Pluckemin, Rahway, Plainfield, Mountainside, Springfield, New Providence, Basking Ridge, Bedminster, Bernardsville, Millington, Union, Elizabeth, Linden, Jersey City, Irvington, Orange, West Orange, Livingston, Short Hills, Florham Park, Madison, Bloomfield, Montclair, Clifton, Garfield, Wayne, Parsippany, Troy Hills and Paramus, New Jersey.