Legal medical cannabis is currently available across the United States, and cannabidiol (CBD) products containing low or no psychoactive properties are even more accessible. Many countries around the world have adopted liberal regulatory cannabis policies, and this shifting legal landscape has opened the floodgates of cannabis research.
Cannabis-based therapies are increasingly accepted as an efficient treatment for a wide range of health challenges, including epilepsy, endometriosis, and chemotherapy-related side effects. One emerging application for cannabis is in the treatment of ocular diseases.
While researchers continue to study how cannabinoids interact in the eye and how these effects can improve eye health, there is long-standing evidence that THC can reduce intraocular pressure (IOP). What does this mean for people facing ocular disease?
In this blog installment, iCAN is shining a light on cannabis-based eye drops in treating the symptoms of glaucoma – one of the most pernicious and common ocular diseases.
The main risk factors of glaucoma are age, genetics, and diabetes. However, in most cases, increasing inflammation leads to elevated IOP that contributes to the destruction of the retina and optic nerve, and eventually end-stage blindness. Therefore, lowering IOP is imperative in halting the progression of glaucoma.
The human eye relies on a delicate balance to function. In the anterior chamber between the cornea and the lens, a clear fluid called the aqueous humor circulates between the lens and the cornea. In a healthy eye, this circulation of fluid is constantly regulated. IOP increases when drainage does not keep up with fluid production: pressure builds up, leading to permanent damage to the retina and optic nerve.
Currently, there are several eye drops available that decrease fluid production and/or increase drainage in the aqueous humor. These treatments are not always effective over time, and some carry unpleasant side effects. A second treatment option is surgical, including laser and microsurgery, for specific conditions. However, these surgeries may need to be repeated several times. These two courses of glaucoma treatment have decreased the incidence of end-stage blindness, but are not invariably effective.
Clinical studies have shown that cannabinoids reduce intraocular pressure (IOP) at least as well as most conventional glaucoma medications when administered orally, intravenously, or by inhalation. These modes of drug-delivery significantly reduce IOP in a statistically significant number of glaucoma patients and healthy adults with normal IOP, and maintained this effect for three to four hours. Another potential effect of cannabinoids on the eye apart from lowering IOP is neuroprotective. By acting on specific ocular receptors, isolated cannabinoid molecules have demonstrated limited efficacy in protecting the optic nerve from damage and restoring blood supply.
The human eye is designed to reject any foreign matter, including ocular treatments. Treating internal eye conditions such as glaucoma, therefore, requires advanced delivery platforms to bypass the eyes natural defenses and deliver highly-bioavailable medication to targeted regions. While it is known that cannabinoids reduce IOP and may offer neuroprotective benefits, the limited duration of effects with currently available treatments entails frequent administration. This is a disadvantage compared to other available treatments with more sustained effects. An additional challenge to cannabinoid-based ocular therapeutics is the difficulty of penetrating the eye barrier.
The emergence of nanoencapsulated cannabinoid medication offers a dramatic change in the delivery of cannabis-based ocular medications. With nanoencapsulation, the beneficial effects of cannabinoids will be applicable to ocular conditions including glaucoma.
iCANsee: A Vision of the Future of Ocular Care
iCANsee is an Israeli-based ocular health startup and subsidiary of iCAN: Israel-Cannabis developing topical, pharmaceutical grade, cannabinoid-based medications for common eye disorders, including glaucoma, utilizing patented nanoencapsulation technology to improve efficacy and bioavailability. The development of this leading-edge therapy will address a number of common challenges to cannabinoid-derived medications. These include:
- Improved consistency in dosing
- Improved onset of action via direct, local application compared to indirect methods of consumption
- Improved bioavailability by bypassing the eye’s structural barriers to absorption
iCANsee was recently awarded a coveted NOFAR Israeli Innovation Authority research grant. This endowment will support clinical validation and product development of nanoencapsulated cannabinoid-based ocular treatments for a wide range of eye diseases.
iCANsee is a first-mover in the market, pioneering the future of nanotechnology and the traditional healing properties of cannabis to revolutionize ocular medicine.