Ocular Effects of Illegal Drugs

It is no secret the US is struggling with an opioid epidemic. It is estimated that 10% of adults use illegal drugs. Many people assume their vices will get their eyes bloodshot and droopy eyelids, but nothing more will happen. Drug abuse can produce a variety of ocular side effects. Illicit drugs can lead to devastating ophthalmology consequences. Effects of these substances on the visual system can range from mild keratopathy and intraocular pressure to severe vision loss.

Long-term use of various drugs and the chemicals in them produce a wide range of effects on the eyes:

  • Marijuana- can cause the user to permanently lose the ability to track items with the eyes, discriminating between color and light sensitivity.
  • Cocaine- Can cause bumps on the cornea, scratching of the cornea, corneal ulcers, permanent scarring, and changes to blood vessel structures in the eye leading to inflammation or bleeding.
  • Heroin- Tightly constricted pupils caused by the drug can lead to blurred vision, loss of vision, or cause orbital cellulitis.
  • Methamphetamine- Can cause protein loss, cell death, and optic neuropathy. Heroin also causes super spikes in blood pressure. The higher blood pressure on the vessels can result in hypertensive retinopathy.

The delivery method of such drugs also has an impact on the eyes, for example:

  • With intravenous drugs, not only is the drug easily absorbed into the body but so are many of the other compounds found in drugs that are also deposited into the body. These deposits are not readily dissolved by the body. Especially in the smaller vessels in the eye. These compounds form on the retina and act like “film” in the eye, which will eventually block the circulation to the retina. The spread of microorganisms causes fungal and bacterial infections.
  • Inhalation – more commonly called “snorting” can cause structural damage to the face including retraction of the upper eyelid, severe sinusitis following abuse can lead to Optic Neuropathy, Orbital Apex Syndrome (Orbital apex syndrome (OAS) involves cranial neuropathies in association with optic nerve dysfunction) and Retinal Vascular Occlusive Disease.

It is hard to conceive in the US that adults are unaware or choose to ignore the danger of illicit drugs. Hearing that some of the harmful effects of illicit drugs could take their sight, is a jolt for some people, considering blindness ranks third in terms of health problems most feared by the general population, behind cancer and heart disease. If another reason is needed to get help for substance abuse – save your sight!













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