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What to know about Cannabis and Macular Degeneration

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Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a leading cause of vision loss among older adults.

Since many people use cannabis for glaucoma, you might be wondering whether cannabis can be used for other eye diseases, including macular degeneration.

There are two types of AMD: wet and dry. Although there are a few treatments available for wet AMD, there aren’t any treatments for dry AMD.

Often, managing dry AMD includes protecting your eyes and maximizing the vision you have left. Taking certain supplements, for example, may help minimize vision loss.

What’s the short answer?

Very little is known about the connection between macular degeneration and cannabis.

Although some research seems to suggest medical cannabis could hold the key to treating AMD, other research suggests cannabis could worsen AMD.

That said, cannabis might be able to help with both depression and anxiety, both of which are common among people with AMD.

What does the research say?

Cannabis works by affecting what’s called the endocannabinoid system. This is an invisible network of chemicals and receptors that’s found throughout your body.

Your body creates cannabinoids — but so do cannabis and hemp plants. When you consume cannabis, the cannabinoids found in the plant interact with the receptors that are found throughout your body.

Cannabis has a wide range of effects because endocannabinoid receptors seem to affect a variety of body parts, from your brain and your skin to your stomach and your salivary glands. And yes, we know there are endocannabinoid receptors in the eyeTrusted Source.

As of 2020, AMD has been a qualifying condition for the Minnesota Department of Health’s state medical cannabis program. However, the department’s press release states that the “decision to add age-related macular degeneration was due to a lack of good treatment options for managing symptoms” and not because there’s evidence to suggest it could effectively treat the condition.

In fact, there’s relatively little research on cannabis and macular degeneration. Recently, though, a 2022 studyTrusted Source attempted to look into this question.

The study analyzed UK Biobank data to find out whether there’s a link between cannabis use and AMD. People who reported using cannabis more than 100 times in their life were significantly less likely to develop AMD than those who had never used cannabis.

People who used cannabis every day were less likely to develop AMD than those who used it fewer than once a month.

But, out of the people who did develop AMD, frequent users developed it younger than those who had never used cannabis: Those who used cannabis 100 times or more were, on average, 8 years younger when they developed AMD than non-users. 

Study authors concluded that cannabis’s anti-inflammatory properties could possibly reduce the risk of AMD. However, cannabis also has anti-angiogenic properties. This means it might speed up the loss of blood vessels. That might cause AMD to develop earlier in some people.

What does this mean for people with macular degeneration?

The research on macular degeneration and cannabis is inconclusive. This means there’s no evidence suggesting it’s a treatment — or a danger — for people with AMD.

If you have AMD, or if you’re at risk of developing it, it’s up to you to weigh up the potential risks and benefits of using cannabis.

If you’re using cannabis for another medical reason — say, for managing chronic pain — you might decide that the unknown risk is worth taking if it improves your quality of life.

However, you might decide to err on the side of caution and avoid cannabis entirely.

Hopefully, future research on cannabis and macular degeneration will help us understand the link between the two. This will help people with AMD make more informed decisions about whether they should use cannabis.

How do you talk about cannabis with your care team?

Generally, it’s best to tell any healthcare professionals you see if you use cannabis. The same goes for any drug, whether you’re using it for medical or recreational reasons, as well as over-the-counter drugs and supplements.

This is because cannabis can interact with certain drugs, possibly diminishing or increasing their effects. Disclosing your cannabis use can also help clinicians identify whether any symptoms you’re experiencing are side effects of cannabis or of your medication.

It’s also essential to tell your anesthesiologist about any cannabis use if you undergo any surgery. As a Harvard Health blog post points out, it’s a matter of safety: Cannabis use can affect how much anesthetic you need.

If you’re not sure how to talk about cannabis with your care team, try the following prompts:

“I’ve read about alternative treatments for vision loss. What is your position on medical cannabis?” “I’m curious about your thoughts on medical cannabis. Do any of your patients use it to manage their symptoms?” “I’ve had some success managing my chronic pain with medical cannabis. Will this affect my treatment options?”

Thanks to the rapid legalization of cannabis and increasing research on its potential benefits, more healthcare professionals are open to talking about cannabis with their patients — even if they don’t personally prescribe it.

However, that’s not to say all doctors are clued into about cannabis. The clinician you see might not know enough about medical cannabis to advise you.

Many people don’t tell their doctors about using cannabis because they’re concerned about getting into legal trouble.

If you’re worried about getting into trouble with the law, know that federal law prohibits your clinician from telling the police about drug use of any kind. There are exceptions to this, however.

Healthcare professionals can break confidentiality if they’re concerned you might harm yourself or others.

If you’re pregnant, for example, and you disclose cannabis or other drug use to a clinician, they may report this to local authorities.

What about CBD and macular degeneration?  

Cannabidiol (CBD) is a chemical found in cannabis. Although it can’t make you feel intoxicated, research has shown it may have a range of health benefits.

But can CBD treat macular degeneration? In short, we don’t know.

More research needs to be done before experts can determine whether CBD can help with macular degeneration.

There’s some evidence CBD might be able to help with inflammation, but there’s no research on whether it can prevent or treat AMD specifically.

The bottom line

There’s very little evidence that cannabis or CBD can be used to treat macular degeneration. This includes wet and dry AMD.

In the event you’re interested in trying cannabis to manage the symptoms of AMD or another health condition, it’s best to talk with a cannabis-friendly healthcare professional. They can guide you through the potential risks and benefits of using cannabis or CBD.

If you use cannabis for any reason — medical or recreational — it’s strongly advised that you let your attending physician know. This is because cannabis can interact with some medications.

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