The National Eye Institute (NEI) announced Wednesday that it is soliciting proposals for research projects investigating the possible use of marijuana as a treatment for glaucoma, an eye disease affecting about a million Americans.
The Clinical Center for Glaucoma Research at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary has plans to conduct research into the use of marijuana as a treatment for the disease sometime next year, David Dukes, an instructor at the Harvard Medical School and a co-investigator at the Center, said yesterday.
"Marijuana is a restricted drug and any research using it has been difficult to clear in the past, but now that NEI is soliciting research, we shouldn't have any trouble getting it through," Dukes said, adding the NEI provides funds for the operation of the clinical center.
Glaucoma is a disease in which increased pressure within the liquid portion of the eye results in visual impairment.
"We have a hint--there is something in THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) which alleviates the pressure involved in glaucoma. The problem we must research now is how to use the drug to treat glaucoma without its psychological side effects," Dr. Douglas Gaasterland, a glaucoma specialist at NEI, said yesterday.
The research will involve isolating from the approximately 11 sub-compounds of THC those which affect patients' glaucoma symptoms apart from those which cause more familiar effects.
Duker said that the drug could be used to treat those patients who don't respond to other treatments, or who experience undesirable sire-effects as a result of more common treatments.
James Lawson, co-director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws for Massachussetts, said yesterday that this kind of research will ultimately lead to the decriminalization of marijuana by increasing public awareness that "marijuana is not mystical, will not turn you into a crazed addict, and is indeed good for treating such things as menstrual cramps, chemotherapy side-effects, and glaucoma.