WEDNESDAY, Dec. 23, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Glaucoma patients ask for marijuana prescriptions because they have false notions of its effectiveness in treating the eye disease, a new survey has found.
And the trend toward legalization of marijuana has lent additional weight to those misconceptions, the results suggested.
Recent research has shown that prescription eye drops are much more effective than marijuana in treating glaucoma, an eye disease that afflicts more than 2 million Americans, said survey author Dr. David Belyea. He is director of glaucoma services at the George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences, in Washington, D.C.
Eye doctors need to step up their education efforts and make sure that people understand that marijuana is an impractical option, Belyea and colleagues conclude in their report, which is published Dec. 23 in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology.
Glaucoma causes blindness by increasing the fluid pressure inside the eyeball, squeezing and damaging the optic nerve, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
Early research showed that smoking marijuana can reduce fluid pressure inside the eye, but it’s of limited value because the drug’s effects are short-lived, said Dr. Eve Higginbotham, a professor of ophthalmology and a vice dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia.
Marijuana only relieves eye pressure for three to four hours, meaning that people would have to smoke pot eight to 10 times a day to sustain its beneficial effects. “You have to smoke it continuously, and you just can’t live that way,” said Higginbotham, who wrote an accompanying editorial.
At the same time, new eye drops have come onto the market that are much more effective than marijuana at reducing eye pressure and have longer-lasting effects, said Mitch Earleywine, an advisory board member for NORML, which advocates for reform of marijuana laws.
“Legendary case studies from 30 years ago consistently support medical cannabis as a potential treatment for glaucoma, but subsequent research has identified potentially better treatments,” said Earleywine, a professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Albany.