In a recent interview with The Daily Beast, Roseanne Barr revealed she is going blind, because she suffers from glaucoma and macular degeneration. She is also a known advocate of marijuana legalization and claims, “It’s a good medicine, you know. I have macular degeneration and glaucoma, so it’s good for me for that, because I have pressure in my eyes.” Don’t listen to Roseanne.
Unfortunately, Roseanne’s claim is more dangerous than it is valid. In fact, smoking pot could hasten the progression of Roseanne’s eye diseases and eventual blindness. But it doesn’t have to.
According to Key-Whitman Eye Center’s President and Chief Surgeon Jeffrey Whitman, M.D., “As recent as June of last year, the American Academy of Ophthalmology released a statement saying there is no basis for prescribing marijuana for the treatment of glaucoma. Compared with modern-day glaucoma treatments, smoking marijuana has not been shown to have any long-term efficacy for treating the disease.”
Smoking pot can hasten the progression of glaucoma and macular degeneration in some cases. “I haven’t seen Roseanne Barr as a patient, so I can’t speak to her current or past treatment for either disease. However, if you ask me whether there are any reasons for her condition to get worse over time, my answer is: Yes, if she isn’t getting medical treatment, I can almost guarantee her condition will get worse.”
While marijuana may offer health benefits for people with diseases such as cancer or those seeking pain management, the fluctuation in blood pressure that results from smoking pot can be problematic for people with eye disease.
“One of the things marijuana does is lower the blood pressure, and if you have glaucoma, that can be a bad thing, especially if the blood pressure is lowered too much. Think of glaucoma as being a high-pressure area. When that area has an even pressure behind it, that actually helps normalize the system and prevent extreme damage to the optic nerve,” explains Dr. Whitman.
When you smoke pot, you cause a disruption to the even pressure necessary for controlling glaucoma. Says Dr. Whitman, “If throughout the day you have episodes where you periodically lower your blood pressure (say, while smoking pot) this makes the pressure in the eye higher, which can cause more damage. As for macular degeneration, it is also important to maintain a steady blood pressure, so Roseanne’s marijuana use could also hasten her vision loss related to that disease.”
While Dr. Whitman agrees, “you can get some temporary lowering of eye pressure with marijuana, you can’t lower it to the levels you can through prescription drugs, surgery or laser treatments. The effects of marijuana are not long lasting, and it could make both glaucoma and macular degeneration worse.”
In the far majority of cases, modern day treatments – not marijuana – can help arrest the progression of glaucoma and macular degeneration. The key is that you want to detect these diseases early on and treat them before a lot of damage occurs.
“Our diagnostic equipment is better than it ever was. Today, we can do more, we can see more, and we can diagnose more eye conditions earlier, but you still need to see your eye doctor for regular eye health exams. Everyone over 40 years of age should get an annual eye exam. Even though there is no cure for glaucoma or macular degeneration, the earlier we diagnose these eye conditions, the more likely we will be able to slow disease progression and ward off blindness,” Dr. Whitman says.
Along with getting annual eye health exams, Dr. Whitman strongly encourages people to listen to their eye doctors and not look to celebrities for advice about eye disease. Says Dr. Whitman, “I don’t want people to read Roseanne Barr’s story, find out they have glaucoma or macular degeneration and think they are going to use marijuana as the primary treatment for either disease. If they do, they are going to end up with the severe loss of vision, unless they seek medically proven treatment to manage their glaucoma or macular degeneration.