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Marijuana Improves Visual Sensitivity

June 1, 2017

This article was taken from

Cannabinoids can slow-down vision loss associated with degenerative diseases of the rear part of the eye that are both hereditary and related to age. Cannabinoids -it turns out- could even help one's sight.




Cannabinoids are chemical compounds that activate receptors which are attuned to tetrahidrocannabinol (THC), one of the active components in Cannabis.

This is what is suggested by the preliminary results of a study carried out by Joseph Bouskila, a doctoral student at the Optometry School of the University of Montreal, under the direction of professors Maurice Ptito and Jean-Francois Bouchard. The study focused on the role of cannabinoid receptors and their related enogenous systems in the visual system. The primary receptors being investigated are CB1 and CB2. These cannabioids are two proteins that present naturally in the body.


"Cannabis...consumption affects many biological functions such as memory, motor coordination, and appetite. But very little is known regarding the actions of the endocannabinoid system on vision," said Bouskila, speaking about the main topic of his research. The primary receptors being investigated are CB1 and CB2. These cannabioids are two proteins that present naturally in the body.


His latest data is consistent with other data in the literature, and shows that the receptor CB1 modulates vision. "If this receptor is blocked, the retina becomes more sensitive to light" says Mr. Bouskila. This had never been shown before using electrophysiological techniques with primates.








The first traces of cannabis derivatives being used as medicine are found in Chinese and Egyptian texts that date back centuries before the birth of Christ. Cannabis treatments were used to treat pain, spasms, nauseas, and lack of appetite. "Since the 80s, the use of Cannabis in treatment given the psychotropic effects of the product, that was replaced with synthetic derivatives"said Joseph Bouskila. 


In the 70s, when psychotropic drugs had better press, observers reported that Jamaican fisherman who smoked cannabis had better night vision. "It wasn't that long ago that this was still just a story," says Bouskila. In 2004, scientific researchers confirmed that the retina is more sensitive to stimulus after cannabis consumption. But until now, nobody has explained the exact science that explains why this plant can improve night vision.

Establishing that the Endocannabinoid system is present in the retinas of primates, the work of Joseph Bouskila allows us to better understand the physiology of vision, and explain the photosensitivity caused by marijuana. In other words, it appears that the endocannabinoid system can modulate various functions, such as the sensitivity of the retina and color vision.

This recent discovery opens the door to new treatments for serious and incurable diseases that affect the area of the eye that is damaged most easily: the retina. "More studies are necessary, but our current data indicates that cannabinoids could be potentially useful in treating retintitis pigmentosa. Those with other eye conditions such as glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration where there is degeneration of the rods and cones could also benefit".




Joseph Bouskila's study was carried out with monkeys because the neuronal processing of vision is similar to that in human beings.


"Studying primates allows us to better understand the functioning of the human visual system, given the similarity of the anatomy and functional organization".


The researcher notes that the monkeys were anaesthetized for the tests. The research protocol was approved by the ethics committee of the University of Montreal.


In order to successfully observe the effects of the endocannabinoid system in the visual system, the researcher did not administer raw, plant marijuana to the primates. Instead, he opted for a combination of two methods: electroretinogram measurements, and injecting a blocking agent in the vitreous humor of the eye. These methods are very similar to those routinely used with human beings. The first is an electrical measurement of the eye when it receives a light signal. The second makes it possible to inject the cannabis receptor blocking medicine close to the retina.


"Since THC bonds to the CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors, this reproduces all of the central and peripheral effects of Cannabis" --Mr. Bouskila.


But how does one explain the increase in visual sensitivity while the primate subjects are anaesthetized?


"The retina consists of photo-receptors which contain light sensitive pigments. As a result, they react to rays of light, whether the animals are asleep or not".


According to Joseph Bouskila, the fact that visual sensitivity in monkeys increases when the cannabis receptors are blocked shows that there is an enogenous system in place, What is the biological function of this? This is what Bouskila hopes to show when his doctoral work is complete.




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