Affecting more than 10 million Americans, macular degeneration is an incurable eye disease caused by the deterioration of the central portion of the retina. Studies suggest that cannabinoids possess neuroprotective properties that can be beneficial for maintaining retinal health.
What is Macular Degeneration?
Macular degeneration, also referred to as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), is caused by deterioration of the retina. The retina contains light-sensing cells and is responsible for triggering nerve impulses that pass via the optic nerve to the brain. In macular degeneration, the small central portion of the retina – the macula – deteriorates, leading to severely impaired vision. The disease is the leading cause of vision loss in people over 60.
Why macular degeneration develops is still not conclusively known. However, researchers believe the causes are complex and can include both heredity and environmental factors. The greatest risk factor for the disease is age.
There is no cure for macular degeneration, so treatment efforts focus on inhibiting its progression with vitamins, vision aids, laser therapy, and medications.
Can Cannabinoid Treatments Help Macular Degeneration?
Research suggests that cannabinoids offer neuroprotective, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory effects that increase cell survival in the eyes to encourage eye health and prevent vision loss. These neuroprotective properties have been demonstrated in the two major cannabinoids – cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). While direct research into cannabinoids and macular degeneration are lacking, the neuroprotective effects of the compounds have shown to slow the vision loss in the case of degenerative eye disorders like retinitis pigmentosa.
One animal study found that both CBD and THC were effective for limiting the formation of peroxynitrade, a potent oxidant responsible for retinal neuron death. In another, CBD treatments significantly reduced oxidative stress, decreased the levels of tumor necrosis factor-α, and prevented retinal cell death in the diabetic retina.
Findings also suggest that cannabinoids increase the light sensitivity of cells in the retina, effectively improving low-light vision. This further indicates that cannabinoids may be able to play a therapeutic role in patients with degenerative eye diseases.
Clearly, more research and efficacy studies on cannabinoids for macular degeneration are needed, but early results of cannabinoid research are promising.
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