Although there is currently no cure for glaucoma, medical marijuana is one alternative therapy sought out by several people suffering from the eye condition, as well as people who are not. Physicians specializing in glaucoma are now the first stop for people looking for an easy medical marijuana prescription. A recent survey conducted by the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, D.C. asked glaucoma patients what exactly they intend on doing with a prescription for medical marijuana and what would influence their decision.

"Our findings suggest a need for more education on this topic to protect patients with glaucoma against the increased acceptability among the public toward using marijuana based on false perceptions of its therapeutic value in glaucoma therapy,” said the research team, headed up by Dr. David A Belyea, in a statement.

Belyea and his colleagues recruited 334 patients to examine factors associated with their intentions to use marijuana as a treatment for glaucoma. Between February and July 2013, 204 of the patients completed a survey at a clinic in Washington D.C. that gauged a variety of factors, including demographics, perceived severity of glaucoma, prior knowledge about marijuana use in glaucoma, past marijuana use, perceptions toward marijuana use (legality, systemic adverse effects, safety and effectiveness, and false beliefs), satisfaction with current glaucoma management, relevance of treatment costs, and intentions to use marijuana for glaucoma.

Among all patients who had either been diagnosed with glaucoma or were suspected of having glaucoma, actual intentions to use marijuana as glaucoma treatment were significantly associated with perceptions of legality of marijuana use, false beliefs regarding marijuana, satisfaction with current glaucoma care, and relevance of marijuana and glaucoma treatment costs. The perception of the legality and acceptability of marijuana were deemed the two most important factors regarding each patient’s intent to use marijuana to treat their condition.

"This study contributes to filling the gap in our knowledge about patients' perceptions toward using marijuana for glaucoma and their intentions to seek this therapeutic alternative,” the researchers added. “Understanding these intentions will become even more important as states continue to legalize marijuana for recreational use (currently Washington, D.C., and four other states), as patients with glaucoma will then have access to marijuana without the need for a physician to prescribe this drug.”

According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, more than three million Americans suffer from glaucoma. However, only around half know they have it. Glaucoma is incurable, it can affect anyone, and is a leading cause of blindness. There are currently 21 states and Washington D.C. that have legalized medical marijuana. The push to have marijuana legalized for medical purposes dates back to a 1999 Institute of Medicine report that unveiled potential therapeutic benefits for the use of marijuana in a variety of debilitating medical conditions like glaucoma.

Source: Dan J, Passi N, Belyea D, et al. Marijuana Use Among Patients With Glaucoma in a City With Legalized Medical Marijuana Use. JAMA Ophthalmol. 2015.