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Is Marijuana Medical Research Just a Cloud of Empty Smoke?

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Is Marijuana Medical Research Just a Cloud of Empty Smoke?

Is Marijuana Medical Research Just a Cloud of Empty Smoke?
November 13
21:59 2019

Are you suffering from glaucoma?   Arguably, few traditional treatments have proven effective.

But marijuana lovers say they have the perfect alternative:  Eye-drops laced with tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the powerful psychoactive ingredient contained in the cannabis plant.

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Marijuana has long been recommended as a treatment for glaucoma because of its presumed potential to reduce pressure on the sufferer’s eye.  In fact, the only federally –funded facility that currently tests marijuana for its medicinal benefits started decades ago with glaucoma specifically in mind.

But its treatment method was flawed, to say the least.  Back then, glaucoma sufferers puffed on marijuana cigarettes and got “high,” but their eye condition didn’t really improve.

It took smoking weed virtually round-the-clock for “intra-ocular” pressure to subside for even a short period.  Research participants would walk around stoned and couldn’t drive or perform many routine tasks.   In the early days of rudimentary marijuana testing, no one seemed to care.

In recent years, though, science’s understanding of the cannabis plant and its healing potential has improved.

Well, sort of.

In fact, the pro-marijuana community – including, many scientists – are increasingly divided over how far to go in legalizing pot.  Diehard pot users want all restrictions to pot use removed.

But many scientists only favor lifting the current federal ban that designates marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, which makes it off-limits to researchers and recreational users alike.

Lifting the ban for research purposes wouldn’t necessarily mean legalizing the drug for recreational use – and that has marijuana enthusiasts worried.

Currently, some two dozen states have legalized or decriminalized marijuana use but it’s still a felony under federal law to smoke, possess or distribute pot.

Many scientists just want the opportunity to study marijuana further.  If medicinal benefits to marijuana are found, they believe prescription drugs should be developed and distributed to patients under a doctor’s care, not sold on the open market.

Even today, glaucoma remains at the heart of the medical legalization debate.

Some tests are currently underway to determine whether THC-derived compounds might be liquefied in eye-droppers to allow glaucoma sufferers to target marijuana’s presumed healing benefits to the part of their body that is directly afflicted.

Marijuana enthusiasts have already begun touting the idea.

But scientific doubts abound.

For one thing, it’s not clear that THC contains the most healing potential.  There are some 70-120 different “cannabinoids,” in the cannabis plant only one of which – THC — is psychoactive.

It could be that medicinal marijuana doesn’t require THC as an active ingredient – and indeed, its psychoactive side effects might be counter-productive.  Scientists find that prospect attractive but recreational users are aghast at the prospect that “getting high” and “getting well” might be viewed as two contrasting – perhaps even mutually exclusive — options.

That could slow the current momentum toward legalization, they fear.

Within the scientific community, including the American Ophthalmology Association, there is still widespread skepticism about the use of pot to treat glaucoma

“[A]lthough marijuana can lower the eye pressure, recommending this drug in any form for the treatment of glaucoma at present does not make sense given its side effects and short duration of action, coupled with a lack of evidence that its use alters the course of glaucoma,” writes Dr. Henry D. Jampel, Odd Fellows Professor of Ophthalmology at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins, and a practicing glaucoma specialist.

Other specialists have gone further, warning that the use of cannabis to treat glaucoma could end up reducing the blood flow to the optic nerve, thus canceling out the presumed benefits of lowered intraocular pressure.

And what about relying on those other cannabinoids (known collectively as CBD) instead?  Here, too, there is evidence that CBD could be counter-productive.

One study has shown that CBD actually increases intraocular pressure, which means it would make a patient’s glaucoma worse, not better.

Ultimately, for a real scientific breakthrough to occur, researchers need to conduct large scale clinical trials with human subjects.  But it could take years for those clinical trials to get underway, let alone be completed.

And those trials are not likely to happen as long as Donald Trump is president.  The White House reversed the Obama administration’s last-minute efforts to loosen restrictions on marijuana research as part of a broader crackdown on the legalization movement.

Pot in some form or another may well have some genuine healing potential.   Given the accumulating anecdotal evidence in its favor – with relatively minor conditions like nausea and anxiety at least — it would be unscientific to dismiss this possibility out of hand.

But judging from the case of glaucoma, there is far too much hype – and far too little science – to make a solid case for promoting marijuana medical research as a top public health priority.

So don’t expect to find those “miracle” THC eye-drops on your local pharmacist’s shelf anytime soon.


About Author

Stewart L

Stewart L

Stewart Lawrence is a trained sociologist and political scientist and a regular columnist for the Washington Times and the Federalist. He is also a former feature contributor to Inside Philanthropy, Counterpunch and the Huffington Post. In 2012 and 2016, he covered the US presidential election campaign for the conservative news magazine Daily Caller. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor and Washington Post. He is currently working on a book about the politics of US immigration policy.

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