Marijuana for Macular Degeneration, Glaucoma, and Night Vision: Jury Still Out

Marijuana for Macular Degeneration, Glaucoma, and Night Vision: Jury Still Out

The continuing ‘hot button’ of marijuana legality looms. However, with 29 states legalizing it in one form or another, it brings up concerning questions for the medical community, particularly optics. The eye diseases macular degeneration, glaucoma as well as the condition of weak night vision has been shown, in some studies, to benefit from marijuana consumption. However, many feel the science is still premature.

Growing per state governmental support continues to kowtow to a majority of citizen votes as well as the highly lucrative financial boon marijuana affords. Yet the Federal government still considers cannabis a schedule one drug, right up there with heroin and cocaine.

Therefore, the question remains as to whether this drug should be medically or even personally prescribed for vision diseases or conditions based on minimal studies, populous and fiscal merits alone. Or, should it be kept out of the hands of prescribers and individuals until more research can confirm its benefits.

Observational Studies and Peripheral results for MD

Macular degeneration (MD) is one of the most serious ocular diseases today. It causes millions to slowly lose their sight. There haven’t been any major studies of the effects of cannabis on MD, mainly due to it still being a schedule one drug which can significantly inhibit funding. Yet, some science points to its potential or peripheral, beneficial influence.

One example of marijuana’s effect on MD is how it shows, in mouse models, to inhibit the increase of the vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) one of the major contributors to MD.

Researchers from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology I, School of Biology, Complutense University, Madrid, Spain published their 2004 study in the journal Cancer Research stating that,

“Because blockade of the VEGF pathway constitutes one of the most promising antitumoral approaches currently available, the present findings provide a novel pharmacological target for cannabinoid-based therapies.”

Cannabis and Glaucoma

One cause of glaucoma is the presentation of increased intraocular pressure (IOP) which, over time, can damage the optic nerve. The result of this damage could cause loss of side vision and in some cases blindness. Currently, medication such as prescribed eye drops can reduce IOP and sometimes, depending on the severity and type of glaucoma, surgery may be recommended. Yet, like any conventional approach there are risks.

Cannabis on the other hand shows to significantly reduce IOP, improve circulation and act as a nerve protector.

A 2004 study published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology states,

“Cannabinoids have vasorelaxant properties and so might be able to increase the ocular blood flow. Thus, cannabinoids may have beneficial properties in ischemia induced optic nerve damage…Cannabinoids have the potential of becoming a useful treatment for glaucoma, as they seem to have neuroprotective properties and effectively reduce intraocular pressure.”

Smoking marijuana offers the most short lived benefits but researchers have created pill, liquid patch and even injectable forms of potent cannabinoids, the compound that has been linked to glaucoma benefits.

Seeing the Light

Marijuana has been part of many cultures long before it was demonized by the American political machine. So, when scientists discovered that West Indie fisherman and Moroccan mountain climbers who use marijuana had an “uncanny ability to see in the dark” they began to research it more.

After studying the effects of marijuana on specific ‘transparent’ tadpoles some significant results occurred. It turns out that certain parts of the brain and ocular anatomy contain natural receptors for cannabinoids, the healing compound found in marijuana.

In a 2004 (this seems like a banner year for marijuana/vision research) a study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology concluded that,

“…we believe that these results reasonably indicate support of the hypothesis that oral THC and smoked cannabis may improve night vision sufficiently…The neuroprotective and antioxidant effects of THC and CBD may have additional applications in other eye diseases such as senile macular degeneration, or in the vascular retinopathy of glaucoma…”


As marijuana begins to gain its deserved medical validity and the stigma attached by past political manipulation lifts, it could be applied to vision disease or conditions in many ways. Aside from smoking or ingesting the plant, pharmaceutical companies are now finding ways to extract its healing properties without the psychoactive effects of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). These studies show that even though many in the medical field feel more studies should be applied, it seems that those suffering from vision challenges may benefit from marijuana use now.