Interestingly, studies completed in early 2006 at The Medical College of Georgia, found that one of the compounds in marijuana may actually save the eyesight of those with diabetes. Cannabidiol is a substance that actually seems to protect the eye from destroying itself by growing leaky blood vessels. This is a common problem with diabetics, known as diabetic retinopathy. It is the leading cause of blindness and affects nearly 16 million diabetic Americans alone.
When diabetics are unable to manage their high glucose levels the retina becomes deprived of oxygen, also known as ischemia. Nerve endings then produce more glutamate. The cells begin to malfunction, no longer recognizing what should, and should not, be in a healthy cell. The microglial cells, whose function it is to cleanse the body by watching for intruders. These cells now are alerted that something is going wrong with the nerve cells and they begin an inflammation process. This signals the retina to grow more blood vessels. In a twist of bad luck, these leaky blood vessels destroy vision by causing the death of nerve cells.
It’s at this stage when the body then starts releasing cannabinoids, a compound found within ourselves and in marijuana. These stop the glutamate release and then produce an enzyme to kill the cannabinoids. Research has now found that Cannabidiol, which is an antioxidant, then interrupts these destructive sequences.
Dr. Gregory Liou, a molecular biologist researching this retinal phenomena at the Medical College of Georgia, has received a grant from the American Diabetes Association for $300,000. His goal is to be able to stop this process in the early stages when the retina first signals the central nervous system in the brain to start growing new blood vessels.
According to the January 2006 issue of American Journal of Pathology, Dr. Liou states, “What we believe cannabidiol does is go in here as an antioxidant to neutralize the toxic superoxides. It inhibits the self-destructive system and allows the self-produced endogenous cannabinoids to stay there longer by inhibiting the enzyme that destroys them.” Studies completed with diabetic mice and rats have shown an injection of cannabidiol to be very effective in preventing the sequence of events that lead to blindness.
It is his hope that along with daily insulin, diabetics will receive cannabidiols to stop this self-destructive behavior dead in its tracks. Those who smoke marijuana for medical purposes may find some protection from this compound.