One thing’s for sure – getting old is never easy. In fact, it’s quite painful. How painful? According to a 2014 report published by Time Magazine last year, “Americans (both men and women) filled 4.3 billion prescriptions and doled out nearly $374 billion on medicine in 2014 – hitting the highest level since 2001.” This dollar figure, according to new data from the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, is up 13% in 2014 compared with the year before.
Is pain big business? You bet.
As a result, many of these people seek out conventional treatments to address these ever-increasing aches and pains. And by conventional, we mean pharmaceuticals and surgery, of course.
Yet for others – and a growing number at that – the real lifesaver is medical cannabis.
Consider: the rate at which 55 to 59 year-olds are using this ancient plant for various health concerns associated with aging has tripled from 2002 to 2008, according to NBC News. Many of these older healthcare consumers are specifically seeking out cannabis alternatives to address and combat their growing levels of eye-related discomfort and concerns.
How important are your eyes?
Try walking around for five minutes without any sight, and you realize just how important eye health truly is.
Unfortunately, as we age, our eyes – like other organs in the body – become more susceptible to degenerative disease. Often, these degenerative diseases – despite conventional medical intervention and treatment options – can lead to permanent disability. In fact, according to The National Academies Press, following cataracts, glaucoma is a primary cause of blindness around the globe, impacting 60 million people.
Common eye diseases include –
Uveitis is the name for a group of diseases that cause inflammation of the uvea, or the middle layer of the eye. The uvea is where most of the blood vessels of the eye reside. According to WebMD, “These diseases can destroy eye tissue and even cause eye loss.” People with immune system conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis and AIDS are often susceptible to uveitis, experiencing blurred vision, eye pain, eye redness and light sensitivity.
Cataracts are cloudy areas that develop within the eye lens. They form slowly and when they begin to affect vision, are often successfully removed through surgery.
Glaucoma is the name of a group of diseases that affect the nerve of the eye. While some pressure in the eye is normal, the optic nerve can become damaged when there is an attack on the cells in the eyes’ retinas. This can happen slowly and progressively over time (the most common form), or acutely due to trauma to the eye, blocked blood vessels or any number of inflammatory disorders in the eye.
As a thin lining on the back of your eye, the retina is made up of cells that collect images and pass them along to the brain. Retinal disorders prevent this transfer. Common retinal disorders include:
Age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) causes a breakdown of a small portion of the retina called the macula.
Diabetic Retinopathy causes damage to the blood vessels of the retina due to diabetes.
Retinal Detachment results from a separation of the retina from the layer beneath the retina.
Back in the day…
While there was early buzz in the 1970s, regarding the therapeutic use of marijuana and THC in particular to reduce intraocular pressure (a key contributor to glaucoma) the medical establishment has been quick to suggest that marijuana as an effective medication, isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Why? Because until recently, the primary use of cannabis to treat glaucoma and study it’s use in the treatment of glaucoma used strains of marijuana that contained high levels of THC.
As a result, short-sighted conclusions regarding the potential efficacy of cannabis as a treatment for glaucoma have been drawn.
According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, “Glaucoma ranks among the most frequently cited reasons for using medical marijuana and is one of the indications for which the federal government once granted permission for compassionate marijuana use (see Chapter 2 and Chapter 11). Yet, the The National Academies Press goes on to state:
“ There is no question that marijuana-based medicines can be used to lower IOP. But like several other glaucoma medications that have fallen into disuse, their drawbacks outweigh their benefits. Marijuana reduces blood pressure and produces psychological effects that some people —particularly the elderly—find intolerable. Several patients in these studies also reported that their hearts pounded or raced and that they felt uncomfortably anxious after taking cannabinoids. All of these effects could prove especially problematic for people at risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke; moreover, reduced blood pressure could decrease blood flow to the optic nerve, counteracting the benefits of reducing IOP. Finally, their short duration of effect means that marijuana-based medicines must be taken up to eight times a day, which most patients are unlikely to do.
However, they go on to say, “It is possible that future research could reveal a therapeutic effect for isolated cannabinoids other than THC or produce synthetic cannabinoid analogs that last longer and have fewer side effects. But the most promising line of research for treating glaucoma lies in the development of therapies that can protect or rescue the optic nerve from damage or that can restore its blood supply.”
Are they ruling out cannabinoids as a therapeutic agent? No, they’re not, but they didn’t call for more research at the time either.
And it was only three years ago in 2014 that a blog post from the Glaucoma Research Foundation, stated “Although marijuana can lower the eye pressure, recommending this drug in any form for the treatment of glaucoma at the present time does not make sense given its side effects and short duration of action”
Time and time again, the medical establishment continues to take the stance that, although “marijuana has shown efficacy in treating glaucoma and other eye related diseases, the downside of THC negates its therapeutic value.
That, it seems, is their story… and they’re sticking with it.
Well thankfully, ‘the times, they are a changin’… as is the research and the negative attitudes towards cannabis.
Today: Can cannabis treat and prevent eye disease?
If they haven’t done so already, it’s fully expected that all 29 states and the District of will all include glaucoma as a qualifying condition, giving you the right to use medical cannabis for the relief of your glaucoma.
The Huffington Post reveals: “It’s long been accepted that marijuana has direct benefits for glaucoma patients, but a new study suggests that pot may also prevent blindness for sufferers of another disease.
That disease is retinitis pigmentosis, a degenerative condition that destroys the millions of microscopic light sensors (known as photoreceptors) in the human eye and has no known cure.
Now, researchers at the University of Alicante in Spain believe medical cannabis may be able to “significantly slow down the destruction of those light sensors.”
Age-Related Macular Degeneration: Cannabis can help
Age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, is another eye disease commonly associated with aging that affects the macula – the part of the eye that sees all the wonderful fine detail in life.
The macula enables us to enjoy activities such as reading, browsing on computer screens, driving around town, and even recognizing faces.
AMD is a gradual and sneaky disease that destroys sharp, central vision making it difficult to see everyday objects with clarity, causing 90% of legal blindness cases.
It’s believed that cannabinoids can significantly help reduce MD symptoms. How? Cannabinoids reduce ocular pressure – they’re anti-inflammatory, and anti-angiogenesis. Cannabinoids have also been shown to protect cells, have anti-aging properties, are neuro-protective, lower blood pressure, protect retina cells, relieve depression and inhibit VEGF growth. Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) is a signaling protein that promotes the growth of new blood vessels.
Clearly, more research and efficacy studies need to be done, but the initial results of cannabinoid research are indeed, very promising.
Diabetic Retinopathy: New hope on the horizon
Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in working-age adults, affecting nearly 16 million Americans, according to Oregoneyes.net.
Again, medical cannabis may have application.
“Early studies indicate cannabidiol works as a consummate multi-tasker to protect the eye from growing a plethora of leaky blood vessels, the hallmark of diabetic retinopathy,” says Dr. Gregory I. Liou, molecular biologist at the Medical College of Georgia.
Dr. Liou, who recently received a $300,000 grant from the American Diabetes Association, wants to intervene earlier in the process, as healthy relationships inside the retina first start to go bad.
In fact, he hopes “the compound in marijuana may one day be given along with insulin to stop the early changes that set the stage for damaged or destroyed vision.” The Science Daily article goes on to state “Cannabinoid receptors are found throughout the body and endogenous cannabinoids are produced to act on them.” According to Dr. Liou, “Their function is very different from organ to organ but in the central nervous system, cannabinoid receptors are responsible for the neutralization process that should occur after a nerve impulse is finished.”
Glaucoma: The eyes have it
Eye disease has been identified as one of the top 10 diseases where cannabis can have a profound medicinal impact. A recent CNN story explains: “Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness. Scientists have looked at THC’s impact on this disease on the optic nerve and found it can lower eye pressure, but it may also lower blood pressure, which could harm the optic nerve due to a reduced blood supply. Will only non-THC cannabis compounds prove to be the “answer”?
Perhaps. But not so fast.
Scientists are currently looking into cannabinoid therapies applied directly to the eye, as an alternative to systemic administration via inhalation and injestion. This could negate the potential issues surrounding optic nerve damage due to reduced blood pressure.
In addition, THC has not only been found to be anti-inflammatory, but has also been found to preserve the nerves, according to another recent small study.”
A 2015 article on Glaucoma posted by Medical Jane concludes that
“Cannabis use may temporarily relieve intra-ocular pressure, but it does not cure glaucoma. Although cannabis use has been shown to decrease IOP and has a favorable safety profile in general, its use is limited by:
the fact that it only works for a few hours before another administration is needed, which is important because psychoactive effects may decrease the ability to perform certain duties necessary in daily life, such as driving, and certain side effects that impact the heart and must be carefully considered or avoided in patients with heart issues.
Additionally, other therapies for glaucoma may be more or equally effective and have fewer side effects than whole-plant cannabis use, due partially to their direct application to the eye (rather than systemically) and a subsequent reduced potential for negative or inconvenient side effects.
However, for patients experiencing certain negative side effects from standard therapies, whole-plant cannabis use may be an alternative option for managing high intra-ocular pressure and potentially certain symptoms, as well. Due to the potential for whole-plant cannabis use to decrease blood pressure and therefore blood supply to the optic nerve (potentially resulting in damage), as well as its potential to cause other negative side effects (especially for patients with heart issues), use should be carefully considered with and monitored by a healthcare professional. Increasing research on the use of cannabinoids in topical treatments may one day lead to new therapies for reducing intra-ocular pressure in patients with glaucoma.”
Tomorrow: So what’s the take-away?
As legalization continues to spread across the United States and around the globe, researchers continue to uncover and test therapeutic cannabis compounds that both prevent and treat a wide variety of degenerative and painful diseases – including those related to the eye.
We need to study the details and treat the individual. Just as each human body is different, so too is the optimal mix of therapeutic cannabinoids. The trick is to find what works for each person being treated. One size, one color, one shape, does not fit all.
What needs to be studied? Nearly every aspect of this ancient plant and its interaction with individuals; Synergistic effects, dosing, strains and co-morbidities just to name a few factors and variables. Fully funded and extensive research will ensure ongoing progress in this growing field of holistic cannabis.
And as we continue to study, dissect and harness the power of this ancient herb, we believe that as one human race, we will finally be able to holistically address the wide range of the maladies we, as unique individuals, face as we grow and age.
The great news is, there is real hope for all of us who will invariably face these mounting health concerns. To be sure, we’ve only just begun.
Be the change you want to see
The Holistic Cannabis Academy has been established to continue to shed light on the holistic use of cannabis to improve the lives of people everywhere. The Holistic Cannabis Academy provides comprehensive medical cannabis education wherever you are, whomever you are, giving you the knowledge and credentials you need to help yourself and others manage their health concerns naturally using medicinal cannabis.
We invite you to join us and learn more, tell a friend, and help spread the word. The cannabis revolution is truly here!
Photo by Ravi Patel on Unsplash