Cannabis Sativa and Glaucoma
Deanna has had slight vision problems through the later years of her life; she had smoked marijuana in the past, but Deanna had discontinued use for about seven years. When she went to her optician, Deanna’s Inner Ocular Pressure (IOP) was recorded at twenty-eight, normal pressure ranging from twelve to twenty. Taking into consideration the relief marijuana might have, Deanna smoked daily for the next three months. When she went in for her check up at the optician, her IOP dropped to twenty. Deanna explained the relief felt in her eye. Shouldn’t this be recognized to the public?
Four million Americans suffer from the eye disease glaucoma, the leading cause of blindness in the United States. There have been treatments in the past with severe side effects even though research today has advanced with more reliable treatments, but at least 10% of all cases fail to be completely controlled by the available prescription drugs. Even though other alternatives are available for glaucoma, we shouldn’t turn away the natural medical use marijuana has provided for thousands of years. Understanding marijuana’s history, understanding glaucoma, and understanding what marijuana does to the brain people can take a step towards a natural alternative because all of our bodies react differently to different substances and each individual should have the choice to find the right alternative for himself or herself.
The oldest confirmed medical use of cannabis was recorded in 2737 B.C. The Chinese emperor Shen-nung taught his people how to plant and harvest the seed. He taught his people how to use the seed, which is full of protein, in their diet, how to break the fiber from stalk and make yarn for fabric making clothing and sails, how to build traps for game, and how to build nets for fish. This era of time was recorded to be an era of commerce and prosperity.
However, many other cultures have recognized the benefits cannabis holds: India, Persia, Assyria, Greece, Africa, South America, Turkey, and Egypt. More recently in the late 1830’s Dr. William B. O’Shaughnessy, a British physician at the Medical College of Calcutta, learned and began studying cannabis. O’Shaughnessy figured out cannabis was effective and safe for treating rabies, rheumatism, epilepsy, and tetanus. Publishing a study in a forty-page article in 1839, "On the preparations of the Indian Hemp or Gunjah," O’Shaughnessy marked the beginning of an intensive study throughout Europe and America. Between 1840 and 1900 more than one hundred articles were published about cannabis use. Queen Victoria’s personal physician, J.R. Reynolds studied and declared cannabis "by far the most useful of drugs" in treating "painful maladies."
The Ohio Medical Society completed America’s first extensive study of cannabis in medicine in 1860. Physicians reported success in treating stomach pain and gastric distress, psychosis, chronic cough, gonorrhea and neuralgia. Being difficult to store, cannabis began to fall out of disuse at the turn of the century. The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 was most effective in prohibiting medical use, and was intended to prohibit its social use. New synthetic drugs replaced cannabis. Finally, in 1942, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics convinced the U. S. Pharmacopoeia to remove the drug from its listing. Cannabis was rediscovered as a medical substance in the 1970’s. Even though federal regulations have made any studies to research cannabis difficult, controlled studies have found therapeutic utility in the treatment of cancer chemotherapy side- effects, glaucoma, and spasticity ailments.
Glaucoma can strike people of all ages, but people over sixty-five have more of a chance dealing with eye troubles. The most common form of glaucoma is open angle, which is characterized by increased pressure within the eye. Normally fluid circulates and drains through tiny funnels along the rim of the iris where it meets the cornea. The Inner Ocular Pressure (IOP) allows the eye to regulate the watery fluid called aqueous humor. When ones IOP level rises the optic nerve can be crushed leading towards blindness. The angles at the opening of the tiny funnels cause them to close resulting with the backup of aqueous fluid creating that dangerous pressure. Cannabis helps by dehydrating the eye; therefore, it relieves the IOP not being as dangerous as before.
Some medications currently prescribed for patients are eye drops called pilocarpine and epinephrine; side effects of these medications include: skin rashes, kidney stones, gastric ulcers, drug fevers, abrupt mood swings, hypertension, respiratory or cardiac failure, and even death. When discussing with Dr. Marciano, a current optician in Palm Beach County, medicines she prescribes to patients with glaucoma, she told me she prescribes several forms of Betagon, a more advanced eye drop. She explained to me how each individual body reacts differently, for we all have different chemical makeups. One patient might have more heart problems another kidney problems; the possibilities are endless. That is why it is important to have as many safe alternatives for all the different people. Lyn Nofziger, former deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee accounts on how his daughter underwent chemotherapy for lymph cancer, "...she was sick and vomiting constantly as a result of her treatments. No legal, including the synthetic "marijuana" pill Marinol, helped her situation... As a result we finally turned to marijuana...she kept her food down, was comfortable and even gained wait." (Randall, foreword).
Observing how the brain reacts with THC, the ingredient in cannabis, which makes it different from hemp, one can begin to understand the relaxing effect it can oppose to the eye. Recently there has been newly found research identifying two cannabinoids and the anandamide. The first cannabinoid receptor, CB1, is found in the brain and mediates psychological effects of THC. Our brain has a way of naturally controlling the use of cannabis. CB2, the second cannabinoid receptor, is associated with the immune system, but its role still remains unclear. The anandamide is a substance naturally produced by the body that acts at the cannabinoid receptor and has similar effects similar to that of THC. After learning this information, it makes sense to use cannabis as a medicine because our body naturally produces a substance similar to the main active ingredient of cannabis, THC.
The facts are that smoking cannabis can be harmful, but cannabis can be taken orally or may be used as a relaxer by applying the medicine with heat to the body. Forms of eye drops, made of cannabis, are still being studied. But the facts stay as they are, and there has been proof of cannabis helping relieve the IOP level one might induce. In a controlled study at UCLA it was discovered that patients smoking cannabis experienced, on average, a 30% decrease in their IOP. Dr. Robert Hepler, principal investigator in the UCLA study, concluded that cannabis may be more useful than conventional medications and may reduce eye pressure in a way that conventional medications do not.
Robert Randall was the first American to gain legal access for cannabis to treat glaucoma. He was able to reduce his pain with a naturally medicine. Why wouldn’t anyone be able to use a plant for its natural medical powers? America is the land of the free, but not the land free to use the plants which can be grown here. Robert Randall comments, "It is about the brutality of the system and the banality of bureaucrats who are charged with managing it. Medical marijuana reveals the failure of elites and the success of common citizens intent on righting a wrong."(Randall, 8).
People must not deny the use of cannabis any longer. Cannabis is a plant from the ground, which is not chemically made. Being a natural remedy that has been used for thousands of years, people shouldn’t be denied to use the plant. After looking at the history of cannabis, glaucoma, and how the brain mediates THC one can better understand why it is important to research the plant. As Dr. Marciano explained to me, there needs to be more research allowed; we need to figure out what works with who. Every American citizen should have the right to choose to use cannabis if they wish for a treatment for glaucoma.
Bakalar, James. Marihuana the Forbidden Medicine. Yale University Press, New Haven,
Conrad, Chris. Hemp for Health. Healing Arts Press, Rochester,1997.
Ford, David. Marijuana Not Guilty as Charged. Good Press, Sonoma, 1997.
Institute of Medicine. Marijuana and Medicine. National Academy Press, Washington,
Randall, Robert. Marijuana Rx The Patients Fight for Medical Pot. Thunder Mouth Press,
New York, 1998.
Dr. Marciano phone number- 561 478 7855
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