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I'm a Medical Research Pioneer

I am on the front lines of medical research.

Some quick background: I was diagnosed with glaucoma a few years ago. It’s the kind where stuff clogs up the mesh that allows your eye to drain and causes fluid buildup that raises the pressure on your optic nerve. The pressure eventually causes irreversible damage and blindness. There are drops that lower the pressure, but I can’t tolerate some of them and the ones I can are less effective.

There are two laser procedures. They’re supposed to blast openings in the mesh at the back of the eye to promote drainage. I’ve had both of them on my left eye. They leave you with diminishing options since they cause some tissue damage. I had the last one about three weeks ago.

It diminished the pressure in the eye a little bit. Ideally, the pressure on your optic nerve should be measured in the teens. Mine was 30 before the procedure and in the mid-20s after it – better but still not where it should be.

My doctor’s name is Robert Ritch. He’s what Mark Twain would have called a rip-snorter: loud, demanding, volatile, impatient and obsessive on the subject of glaucoma. An office visit is a ticket to performance art; interns and fellows swirl in his wake like leaves in a stream, moving from patient to patient in five examining rooms at any given time. He treats rock stars and royalty and the heads of unsavory governments because he’s very, very good at what he does. Which is why I go to him even though he doesn't take Medicare and I pay out of pocket. Plus he’s fun to talk to.

He’s also curious, smart, and willing to try anything.

On Friday, my pressure on the second follow-up after my second laser treatment was still in the mid-20s. Dr. Ritch was going to tweak it, diminishing my laser options to practically none. Then he had another idea.

A week ago when I was there he was going on about somebody he knew, perhaps another patient. “He has 300 drug patents,” he said. “Get your money out and get in line.” A topical application for dry eye had caught his fancy. It was a cream or gel rubbed on the forehead above the eyes that produces tears. "I tried it and I was crying like a baby 15 minutes later," said Dr. Ritch. “Do you want to try it?” He put some on my forehead and it didn't change a thing.

But the idea of topical application had put a bee in his bonnet.

“Have you got some time?” he said. When I shrugged he said, “Okay, I’m going to try something.” He produced a little capsule, punctured one end, squeezed a dab of the contents on his fingertip and rubbed that on my forehead above my eyebrows. "What is that?" I asked. "Pure THC," he said. Then he sent me off to wait for 45 minutes before checking my pressure again.

It was actually closer to an hour or 75 minutes before he did another pressure check. “It’s 17 in both eyes,” he said with evident satisfaction. “I think we can put off the laser for awhile.”

He was trying the same thing with another patient with the same results. This set off a flurry among the people who followed him around of “How do we deal with this?" Pure THC has been around for some time. It’s an artificial form of the active ingredient in marijuana. It's called dronabinal and marketed as Marinol and is used to stimulate the appetite in AIDS patients. It's a controlled substance and the capsules obviously are meant to be taken orally.

When I texted my wife Barbara about this and she and her sister and cousins – they were at her uncle’s funeral in Oregon -- responded with the obvious question: "Are you high?" I didn't feel as if I was. Swallowing the capsules probably gives a bigger kick.

Soon I had a prescription and a set of instructions the pharmacist had never seen before for Miradol: “Apply to forehead as directed by physician." I put some on last night and again this morning. I have to say I don't think it helped my Saturday tennis game. Still, if it drops the pressure I'm all for it.

I'm due to see Dr. Ritch again in two weeks. We'll see. And that's how I'm a scientific pioneer.
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