With stigmas easing, more adults are turning to the medicinal benefits of CBD and cannabis to treat eye conditions like cataracts. There is no proven evidence that marijuana or CBD can treat cataracts or its symptoms, though research is being done on other possible natural remedies. CBD is a chemical found in marijuana that is considered medicinal, and it has been advertised as a treatment for many issues, including glaucoma. Learn why CBD does not actually work well for eye treatment.
Cataracts and cannabis: Is there a treatment connection?
With stigmas easing, more adults are turning to the medicinal benefits of CBD and cannabis to treat eye conditions like cataracts.
Symptoms of cataracts include fading colour, blurred vision, problems with lights “glaring”, poor night vision and double-vision. Photo by / Photo: nd3000 / iStock / Getty Images Plus
Affecting almost 25 million Americans, cataracts cloud the eye, reduce vision, dull colours and, when not treated, can cause blindness. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cataract is the leading cause of blindness globally.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology states that while Americans have treatment options for cataract diseases, many don’t understand something is wrong with their eyes until it’s too late. Slightly more common in women than men, cataracts are a growing issue that is affecting vision and quality of life.
Cataracts and cannabis: Is there a treatment connection? Back to video
Symptoms of cataracts include fading colour, blurred vision, problems with lights “glaring”, poor night vision and double-vision.
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The Barnet Dulaney Perkins Eye Center explains that while age is the primary cause of cataract-related issues, diseases such as diabetes and medications such as steroids can increase the risk of developing cataracts later in life.
According to the National Eye Institute, “The risk of cataract increases with each decade of life starting around age 40. By age 75, half of white Americans have cataract diseases.”
By 2050, the institute estimates that cataract numbers will double from 24.4 million adults to 50 million adults experiencing cataract issues. The data suggests those most at risk of a rapid increase are Hispanic Americans.
“Most cataracts are age-related — they happen because of normal changes in your eyes as you get older. But you can get cataracts for other reasons — for example, after an eye injury or after surgery for another eye problem (like glaucoma),” the institute reports.
Turning to Cannabis
With stigmas easing, more adults are turning to the medicinal benefits of CBD and cannabis to treat eye conditions like cataracts. Harvard Health’s blog illustrates that many Americans are looking for different approaches to pain and age-related diseases. With 94 per cent of Americans surveyed in a recent poll supporting legal access to weed, many people are seeking out the medicine- more than ever before. In fact, The Journal of the American Medical Association reported that cannabis use has been steadily increasing with adults who are 65 or older from 2.4 per cent in 2015 to 4.2 per cent in 2018.
Studies are limited about marijuana and cataracts, but cannabis does appear to have benefits with glaucoma. / Photo: Chinnapong / iStock / Getty Images Plus Photo by Chinnapong / iStock / Getty Images Plus
The American Academy of Ophthalmology stated that while studies are limited about marijuana and cataracts, cannabis does appear to have benefits with glaucoma, lowering intraocular pressure if dosed correctly.
The bottom line
With few studies available or in queue for cannabis’ effects on eye health, it is best to talk to your ophthalmologist if you are using cannabis or CBD, and find out if any risk factors exist.
As the stigma around weed continues to lessen, many older Americans are looking for new treatments for old issues. Scientists, no doubt, will want to keep up with trends and create new pathways for medicines to heal the body.
Is marijuana helpful when used for cataracts? What about CBD?
Your last visit to the eye doctor found the culprit for your foggy vision — cataracts. Your doctor said cataract surgery is the only proven cure, but you’d like to know your options before undergoing the procedure.
Perhaps you’ve heard that marijuana can help with glaucoma. Or maybe you’re using a form of CBD, marijuana’s hemp-derived cousin, for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. What are your options?
Either way, the answer is the same: There’s no scientific proof that either marijuana or CBD help with cataracts. Though marijuana can ease glaucoma symptoms and CBD may relieve inflammation, they don’t have any proven benefits for people with cataracts. You’ll see why when you understand the causes of cataracts and glaucoma.
Cataracts vs. glaucoma: How they’re different
Cataracts form on the eye’s lens, a transparent structure in the eye that works much like a camera lens. Humans typically develop cataracts after age 40 because crystallin proteins within the lens begin to break down into tiny clumps that cloud the lens’s natural transparency. This cloudiness produces foggy vision that gets worse over time, especially after age 70. Cataract surgery removes the natural lens and inserts an intraocular lens (IOL) in its place.
Glaucoma, by contrast, afflicts the optic nerve. It happens because intraocular pressure squeezes the optic nerve, creating long-term damage that generates blind spots. Decades ago, as marijuana use became more popular, people with glaucoma started noticing that smoking marijuana took the edge off their symptoms.
It turns out that THC, the primary active ingredient in marijuana, relaxes intraocular pressure, easing the symptoms of glaucoma — but only for a few hours. Modern glaucoma medicines can treat intraocular pressure around the clock.
Though marijuana has a proven impact on glaucoma, there’s no scientific evidence of any influence on cataracts.
Find out more: Glaucoma FAQs
What about CBD as a home remedy for cataracts?
So, marijuana and THC have no proven impact on cataracts. Is the same true for CBD?
Pretty much. CBD is short for cannabidiol, a chemical from the hemp plant that has become increasingly popular in recent years because it has no intoxicating effects.
Cannabidiol marketers claim it can reduce anxiety, pain and inflammation. These claims have not been verified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Only one CBD-based medication, for a rare variety of childhood epilepsy, has FDA approval.
But what about cataracts?
As of mid-2020, there’s no scientific evidence that CBD helps with cataracts. However, according to a 2019 article in the medical journal Frontiers in Pharmacology, there is a growing body of research into possible natural or homeopathic remedies for cataracts. Again, these remedies do not have broad scientific backing so far, but they do suggest the possibility of eventually developing medications that can treat cataracts. Whether any of those medications would include CBD remains to be seen.
Is there any link between CBD and common cataract risk factors?
To answer that question, let’s consider the most common risk factors that contribute to cataracts:
CBD & the Eyes: Research & Can It Help You?
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CBD has become a touted treatment for various issues, including glaucoma. This is based on older medical studies and anecdotal reports that CBD oil, eye drops, and other forms of medical marijuana help to ease anxiety, eye strain, and eye pressure.
One of the first studies on medical marijuana for eye conditions involved glaucoma. This is a group of serious eye disorders associated with damage to the optic nerve, usually due to high fluid pressure in the eye, or intraocular pressure (IOP). This pressure must be lowered to prevent blindness. Further studies of medical marijuana have found that the drug does not actually lower pressure for long enough.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved CBD for some very limited medical uses, and several states have legalized both medical and recreational use of marijuana, both THC and CBD.
Dispensaries recommend CBD for eye treatment, especially glaucoma. Medical research has found that medical marijuana does not lower eye pressure for more than three or four hours, which is not long enough to prevent damage to the optic nerve. Paradoxically, it may increase the risk of damage due to fluctuations in eye pressure over the course of the day.
In fact, a recent medical study found that THC, not CBD, lowered eye pressure. By itself, CBD raises IOP, and in combination with THC, it can prevent THC from lowering IOP. THC is the intoxicating, recreational chemical in marijuana, which can be addictive and cause problems with thinking or memory.
It is important for you to follow medical advice from your optometrist and ophthalmologist to manage all eye conditions, from dry eyes to glaucoma. Don’t attempt to self-treat any eye issue with CBD.
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Cannabidiol (CBD) & Your Eyes: High Intraocular Pressure Is Dangerous
Glaucoma is a group of related eye conditions involving damage to the retina and optic nerve that leads to vision loss, typically due to high fluid pressure inside the eyes. Symptoms tend to start slowly until enough of the optic nerve is damaged that the person develops tunnel vision or another form of lost vision. Regular eye exams can help to diagnose glaucoma or high ocular pressure, so an optometrist or ophthalmologist can monitor this progression and ensure you receive appropriate treatment if you begin to lose your sight.
Treating glaucoma starts with medicated eye drops that are designed to lower intraocular pressure. If these do not work, there are several approaches to surgery that can lower fluid pressure in the eyes and prevent vision loss.
There are side effects to all these options, so many people with glaucoma, or who are at risk for glaucoma, want to find alternatives. One proposed alternative is CBD oil, or the cannabidiol molecule derived from medical marijuana.
Using Medical Marijuana Like CBD for Your Eyes Does Not Work
As marijuana has become more popular and many states have legalized both medical and recreational uses for this drug, CBD oil is being promoted for a range of uses, including as a glaucoma treatment.
There are very few medical studies on the effectiveness of CBD or medical marijuana, although the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has information on potentially beneficial uses for this approach to treatment. They have approved one CBD-based drug for two types of severe, rare epilepsy. Some forms of medical marijuana have been examined to treat eye conditions, especially glaucoma, but newer research suggests that CBD is not an effective treatment for your eyes.
Medical marijuana has been touted to generally ease physical and emotional pain, including nausea related to cancer treatment, chronic pain, general anxiety disorder, and other conditions. In the 1970s and 1980s, medical marijuana was studied as an eye treatment, particularly for serious conditions like cataracts and glaucoma, which can lead to blindness. The research found that marijuana could lower intraocular pressure for three or four hours at a time, and it was more effective at lowering pressure in the eyes than glaucoma drops.
However, the studies also found that these pressure-lowering effects would wear off after a certain amount of time, while the effects of glaucoma eye drop treatment lasted at least 12 hours. It is vital for eye health that treatment to manage intraocular pressure lasts for a long time and is consistent. When eye pressure rises and lowers several times throughout the day, damage to the optic nerve can get worse.
Medical Studies on CBD & the Eyes Suggests CBD Is a Dangerous Chemical
CBD in particular is receiving a lot of attention from the medical community and medical marijuana proponents. However, studies suggest that the CBD compound may make intraocular pressure higher, while THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the chemical in marijuana associated with substance abuse and getting high, is responsible for lowering eye pressure.
A study conducted in 2018 found that THC and CBD regulate eye pressure differently. When they are separated from marijuana, they will have radically different effects.
The results of the 2018 study found that a single dose of THC drops lowered IOP by 28 percent for 8 hours in male mice, although humans with glaucoma need 24-hour pressure relief to reduce damage to the optic nerve. The study also found two interesting problems. First, CBD inhibited THC from lowering IOP. Second, the effects of THC on eye pressure were sex-dependent, with male mice receiving noticeably greater benefit from the treatment.
- Accelerated heartbeat, which can trigger anxiety or feel like anxiety.
- Decreased blood pressure overall, which can be harmful to the cardiovascular system.
- Reduced blood flow to several parts of the body, including the optic nerve, which can increase damage.
- Increased risk of lung cancer specifically from smoking or vaping marijuana products.
- Greater risk of addiction with any amount of marijuana treatment containing THC.
- Drowsiness, memory loss, and cognitive issues associated with abusing marijuana.
- Struggles to hold down a job or drive safely if drug-tested.
Most medical research suggests that CBD does not intoxicate you the same way THC does, but taking types of medical marijuana marketed as “high CBD” might mean there are traces of THC included in the substance. THC is addictive because it can change brain chemistry to make you feel relaxed, less anxious, sleepy, or even happy. The drug can also cause negative side effects like changes in mood, spikes in anxiety or paranoia, delusions, and trouble thinking or problem-solving.
Follow Your Eye Doctor’s Treatment Plan for Treating Eye Conditions
Some dispensaries hype CBD for the eyes aside from glaucoma treatment, suggesting that it can ease pain from surgery, reduce dry eye, and even alleviate eye strain. However, there are no medical studies to back up these claims. The changes to eye pressure due to CBD may lead to damage to your vision, even if you do not have glaucoma.
The only currently approved medical approach for glaucoma is regular eye exams to monitor the condition. Follow your eye doctor’s advice to manage this condition if you are diagnosed with it. This will likely mean eye drops first to prevent vision loss. It could also mean laser eye surgery, drainage devices, or other types of surgery to alleviate intraocular pressure and reduce damage to the optic nerve.
Glaucoma. (July 2020). National Eye Institute (NEI).
Cannabidiol (CBD) – What We Know and What We Don’t. (August 2018). Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School.
Is There a Risk of Blindness With CBD? (2018). United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
CBD Oil May Worsen Glaucoma. (February 2019). American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).
What Is Marijuana? (December 2019). National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).
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