Bloodshot eyes can be a real buzz-kill. Even worse, it can propel you into an anxiety attack if you’re high at an inopportune time and “everyone knows it”. This is thanks, in part, to the mainstream media portrayal of a typical stoner with low, red eyes. Do better, stereotypes! So, what gives? Let’s dive into the science behind the side effect that likely got you busted in high school.
Why does smoking pot result in red eyes?
THC, the primary psychoactive chemical in marijuana, lowers blood pressure. This causes blood vessels in the eyes to expand, or dilate. As the ocular capillaries dilate, blood flow increases, and pressure inside the eyes drops. The extra blood flow gives the expanded capillaries their bloodshot look, creating a web of red within the whites of the eyes.
This effect is why cannabis is widely used to treat glaucoma, a serious chronic eye disease that causes high pressure within the eyes, leading to permanent vision loss and severe pain. Pot reduces ocular pressure and staves off glaucoma’s worst complications.
It’s important to note that red-eye is not caused by marijuana smoke itself. Instead, it’s triggered by THC and other chemicals in the pot plant known as cannabinoids.
Does the level of red reflect the level of high?
Essentially, yes. The amount and quality of cannabinoids consumed directly influences how red your eyes become (though genes, allergies, and general sensitivity to marijuana also play a part). More cannabinoids increase the level of blood vessel dilation, thus making your eyes redder. Hitting a bong packed with low-grade cannabis one day may have no effect, while a few puffs of high-grade pot, or having a marathon smoke day, could leave you scrambling for Visine.
How do I avoid or treat redness? Here are a few tips.
One option is opting for strains low in cannabinoids (but who wants to do that?) Many strains are high in CBD and other medically beneficial cannabinoids but low in THC. This means you won’t get nearly as high, but if you’re more concerned with medication than recreation, this could be a good way to keep your eyes white.
Another option that will deliver the euphoria your seeking, sans side effects, is to treat the symptom with eye drops. There are tons of super affordable over-the-counter drops available online or at most stores that are specifically formulated to treat redness.
Our 4 favorite eye drops
Rohto Dry Aid
If anyone has ever handed you eye drops and exciting observed your application, they likely passed you Rohto drops. The micro-emulsion formula definitely delivers an initial sensation upon contact, but within seconds you will feel complete relief and be red-eye free.
LUMIFY Redness Reliever Eye Drops
With brimonidine as an active ingredient, the drops directly target redness providing a noticeable reduction within one minute that lasts up to 8 hours.
Clear Eyes Redness Relief
Clinically proven to provide whiter eyes for up to 12 hours, Clear Eyes uses naphazoline hydrochloride to relieve redness.
Visine Red Eye Comfort
Easily the OG, you can’t go wrong with Visine. The bottle fits perfectly in your pocket and provides redness relief with Tetrahydrozoline HCl.
But don’t overdo it. Using Visine or any decongestant on your eyes for more than two or three days can cause irritation.
Another approach that offers additional benefits is hydration with good ‘ol H20. Red eyes often come with dryness, and extra hydration makes that less likely. Or, what the hell, just roll with it. Go to the bank and make a suspiciously large withdrawal or deposit. Flag down a cop for directions. Visit your local dispensary and ask if they make donations to people in need. You know, have fun with it.
Because once that dreaded red-eye appears, you’re going to have a heck of a time convincing anyone you’re sober.
What do you think: Are red eyes a serious problem for you? Do you even care if people see you with bloodshot eyes?