Why Using THC Is Good for the Eyes
These days the list of illnesses that cannabis medicines can be used for grows every day, with research studies being done left and right to test its efficacy against different symptoms and disorders. Most attention is focused on CBD because of its lack of psychoactive effects, while THC is often left out. However, it was found early on that THC is good for the eyes, and has been used to treat conditions like glaucoma for decades.
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Medical cannabis back in the day
Before getting into the restart of medical cannabis in more recent decades, let’s go over some facts about the use of cannabis in medicine. Essentially, it’s been used in medicine for thousands of years, long before it was co-opted by Western medicine in the 1800’s, and then re-introduced once again after a period of enforced illegalization. It’s a part of two of the oldest medicinal traditions, Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine, both of which have multiple applications for the use of cannabis to treat tons of different ailments. It has been used in many other lesser-known medical traditions as well.
Prior to it being scheduled as a narcotic by the Single Convention on Narcotic Substances which forced a global illegalization, cannabis was being used in all types of Western medicine applications. In fact, it was listed in the United States Pharmacopoeia for the first time in 1850, but dropped from there in 1937 following the Marijuana Tax act. Before the laws changed, it could be found in tons of products, for almost anything. Most people, of course, had no real understanding of this, but it does show that cannabis was being used very heavily in the world of medicine. Considering how many countries were forced into illegalizing the plant, this was not confined to just the US.
Cannabis has existed medicinally in essentially three stages. The first was everything up until the 1800’s when it was used in natural medicine traditions. The second stage was the original co-opting of the drug into Western medicine, and the third is the reintroduction back into Western medicine more recently.
It entered Western medicine for the first time in around 1842 when the Irish researcher Dr. William O’Shaughnessy published Bengal Dispensatory and Pharmacopoeia which included an entire 25 pages devoted to cannabis use in medicine. He started studying it back in 1933, when a part of the British East India Company, and saw it as beneficial for use with digestive issues, acute rheumatism, in dealing with pain, and for sedation, among other applications.
The restart of medical cannabis
Over in Israel, Raphael Mechoulam was doing his own thing in the mid-1900’s, publishing a paper on the isolation of THC in 1964, and investigating it for use with a number of illnesses. Research that essentially got pushed underground for decades. There was also Roger Adams, the guy who isolated CBD in 1940, the compound that helped bolster medical cannabis in general by offering a non-psychoactive compound to treat illnesses. Basically, all those things cannabis had already been used for, prior to illegalization, began to be tested through more modern means of medical research. Most of this didn’t make any waves for a long time, until California made the topic an international story.
In the US in 1979, Virginia passed a drug bill to overhaul its system, and this bill allowed for cannabis medications to be prescribed to people with glaucoma and cancer. This was the first modern medical legalization in the US. California pushed harder with a bill solely for cannabis use in medicine in 1996, setting off a flurry of changing regulation in the States with its Proposition 215.
THC is good for the eyes, especially glaucoma
It might not be considered one of its more prevalent uses now, but cannabis use to treat glaucoma was one of the first reasons for its reintroduction into Western medicine. And this because THC has been shown to be good for the eyes. Research into cannabis use for the eyes has been out since the 1970’s, when it was determined that marijuana, and specifically THC, can decrease intraocular pressure, one of the main reasons for glaucoma.
There is more than one type of glaucoma, but the majority of sufferers have POAG – or, primary open-angle glaucoma. It might not be mentioned as much as other disorders, but glaucoma is very widespread, affecting upwards of 60 million people worldwide. Other than age and race, intraocular pressure is the third risk factor for developing the disease, meaning keeping pressures under control is vital, especially as glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness after cataracts.
The idea that THC can be used to treat glaucoma – AND medically in general! – came about in the mid 70’s when a 26-year-old guy named Robert Randall – who was experiencing advanced glaucoma, which wasn’t being adequately taken care of – noticed the disappearance of halos around lights (caused by his high eye pressures) after smoking marijuana. Randall ended up growing his own marijuana, for which he got caught and arrested, and subsequently faced federal charges.
In the 1976 landmark case The United States vs Randall, Randall successfully argued his case in front of the DC Superior Court, creating “The first successful articulation of the medical necessity defense in the history of the common law, and indeed, the first case to extend the necessity defense to the crimes of possession or cultivation of marijuana.” This made Randall the first legal medical cannabis user since 1937 when the Marijuana Tax Act essentially ended cannabis use in medicine, and in general.
How else is THC good for the eyes?
Funny enough, THC has an application that we all technically know about already. And if not necessarily ‘good’, with possible medical purpose, at least. Everyone knows that cannabis dries out the eyes. I can personally attest to the fact that my contacts stick right to my eyes when using marijuana. This, in and of itself, isn’t a benefit, but in this study it was shown that THC is good for regulating the lacrimal gland, and this may have positive benefits for people with epiphora, a condition of over-tearing eyes.
In 2004, a study was published on the effects of cannabis on night vision. The study included very few subjects which means it requires more corroboration, however, it did show a positive outcome. In two double blind studies on subjects who smoked kif (here defined as “sifted cannabis sativa mixed with tobacco”), it was noted that night vision improved after smoking. The belief of the investigators is that this is based on dose, and that the effect is mediated at the retinal level. The study used Marinol as its form of THC, in doses of 0-20mg.
One of the issues with THC is that due to the general ban on it, not as much research has been done into it as could have been. Right now there isn’t much research regarding cannabis and cataracts, but there are some connections that might prove promising. For one thing, THC helps reduce inflammation, which is a major characteristic of cataracts, along with elevated blood pressure which cannabis can help to decrease as well.
Another major eye issue, especially among the aging, is macular degeneration. Cannabis can help treat symptoms in many ways. For one, much like with cataracts, it can help with inflammation. Second, it can also inhibit vascular endothelial growth factor, and without the harsh side effects of pharmaceutical medications for this purpose. Third, it lowers intraocular pressure – which is beneficial for glaucoma sufferers too. And fourth, when looking at the psychological factors of having such an eye condition, and the anxiety and depression that can go along with it, cannabis can be useful here as well, helping to ease these symptoms and relax the patient.
As with any other topic related to medical marijuana, there are plenty of articles shouting out about possible damage caused by using it. Anyone interested in using cannabis to treat their eye issues should speak to a professional of some kind, preferably one who understands cannabis medicine. However, that THC can be good for the eyes seems to have been understood for quite some time, though its actual application has been much slower with the pick-up. Perhaps in the future this will change.
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