Individuals with a history of cocaine use are more likely to develop open-angle glaucoma than non-users, according to a study in the September Journal of Glaucoma.

In this study, researchers analyzed the medical records of 5.3 million patients (91% male) seen in Veterans Affairs outpatient clinics in 2009. Approximately 1.5% of patients were diagnosed with glaucoma, and another 3.3% of patients reported a history of cocaine use or dependency.

After adjusting for race and age, the researchers noted that current and former cocaine users were 45% more likely to develop glaucoma than non-users. Additionally, they found that men with open-angle glaucoma were more likely to have used amphetamines and marijuana.
One striking finding: Patients with a history of illicit drug use developed open-angle glaucoma nearly 20 years earlier in life than non-drug users (mean age of 54 years vs. 73 years).

“The association of illegal drug use with open-angle glaucoma requires further study, but if the relationship is confirmed, this understanding could lead to new strategies to prevent vision loss,” said lead author Dustin French, Ph.D., a research scientist at the Regenstrief Institute in Indianapolis.

Dr. French and his coauthors suggested that if a direct causative relationship can be identified, substance abuse would be another modifiable risk factor for glaucoma.

French DD, Margo CE, Harman LE. Substance use disorder and the risk of open-angle glaucoma. J Glaucoma. 2011 Sep;20(7):452-7.