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When the two children of Winnipeg resident Steven Stairs come down for breakfast every morning, they pass by jars of cannabis on the counter. They don’t bat an eyelash. They know this is dad’s medicine he requires daily.

Stairs frequently consumes cannabis due to suffering from his glaucoma, an eye condition that has left him partially blind. Stairs says in an interview that the effects of cannabis eases the pain of intraocular pressure he faces daily. “It doesn’t fully stop my glaucoma,” he notes. “It’s more like cannabis puts it on pause.”

He has long been a medical marijuana (cannabis) user and now grows more than 50 plants to help support his medication that has a Catch-22 (catch-22) effect: It eases eye pressure but doesn’t last very long, requiring Stairs to smoke several joints a day.

Studying how cannabis helps glaucoma patients goes back as far as 1971, when researchers found1 cannabis could lower intraocular pressure by 25 to 30 (25-to-30) percent. Later studies posited2 that two cannabinoid agonists — WIN 55212-2 and anandamide — and several cannabinoids including CBD and CBG (cannabigerol), may be strong candidates to develop as therapeutic agents, particularly because, even when given topically directly to the eye, they are well tolerated.

But some experts are holding up a caution sign. Cannabis may lower the eye pressure, but “it also lowers blood pressure. Lower blood pressure could result in reduced blood supply to the optic nerve, which in turn might harm the optic nerve,” wrote3 Henry D. Jampel, MD, MHS, the Odd Fellows Professor of Ophthalmology at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins.

In 2009, an American Glaucoma Society position statement declared4 that there is no scientific basis for the use of cannabis in the treatment of glaucoma “unless a well-tolerated formulation … with a much longer duration of action is shown in rigorous clinical testing to reduce damage to the optic nerve and preserve vision.”

For Stairs, he combines his cannabis treatment with eye drops that also help with his cataracts. He’s hopeful that, with legalization in Canada, more R&D can be poured into glaucoma-cannabis research. “I’d love to see the day when I can go into a dispensary and pick a strain specific to help treat my glaucoma,” he says.

As a parent, Stairs is also quick to point out why he demystifies cannabis to his kids. It’s not about encouraging them to use cannabis, he says, but about educating them properly on a medication they are quickly becoming familiar with.

“And if any of them wants to try cannabis down the road, I told them to come to me and I’ll tell them about it. And I’ll tell them their first time should be in a safe space with friends, not in the backseat of a car with some sketchy guy. There’s no point having them live in a bubble where I think they’re never going to try it.”

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/5109652
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1772142/
  3. https://www.glaucoma.org/treatment/should-you-be-smoking-marijuana-to-treat-your-glaucoma-1.php
  4. http://glaucomatoday.com/2018/04/marijuana-and-glaucoma/

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