Rosanne Barr is Going Blind

Comedienne, and one-time Presidential candidate, Rosanne Barr is going blind.

The sixty-two year old Barr told The Daily Beast that she has been diagnosed with macular degeneration and glaucoma, and that she is slowly losing her sight.

“My vision is closing in now. It’s something weird. But there are other weird things. That one’s harsh, ’cause I read a lot, and then I thought, ‘Well, I guess I could hire somebody to read for me and read to me.’ But I like words and I like looking. You do what you have to do. I just try and enjoy vision as much as possible—y’know, living it up. My dad had it, too.”

Barr says doctors can’t tell her how long before she is completely blind. She also admits to using marijuana to help with her glaucoma and claims that is is also “excellent for releasing us from ‘mind control:’”

“It’s expansive. It opens your mind. You’re like,”—she looks up—“Wow, you’re in awe. You look up into the stars. It makes you wonder. It doesn’t close that down.”

Barr is currently promoting a documentary by Eric Weinrib entitled Roseanne For President!, which follows her failed 2012 Presidental run as a candidate for the Green Party. She did ultimately become the nominee for the Peace and Freedom Party.

What is macular degeneration?

The macula is an oval-shaped highly pigmented yellow spot located in the center of the retina,  which is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye.  Near its center is the fovea, a small pit that contains the largest concentration of cone cells in the eye and is responsible for central vision. The retina instantly converts light, or an image, into electrical impulses. The retina then sends these impulses, or nerve signals, to the brain.


Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a disease associated with aging that gradually destroys sharp, central vision. Central vision is needed for seeing objects clearly and for common daily tasks such as reading and driving.

AMD affects the macula, the part of the eye that allows you to see fine detail. AMD causes no pain.

In some cases, AMD advances so slowly that people notice little change in their vision. In others, the disease progresses faster and may lead to a loss of vision in both eyes. AMD is a leading cause of vision loss in Americans 60 years of age and older.

Left: Normal vision

Right: The same scene as viewed by a person with age-related macular degeneration.


 Wet vs. Dry?

AMD is divided into two different types, wet AMD and dry AMD.


Wet AMD occurs when abnormal blood vessels behind the retina start to grow under the macula. These new blood vessels tend to be very fragile and often leak blood and fluid. The blood and fluid raise the macula from its normal place at the back of the eye. Damage to the macula occurs rapidly.

With wet AMD, loss of central vision can occur quickly.

An early symptom of wet AMD is that straight lines appear wavy. If you notice this condition or other changes to your vision, contact your eye care professional at once. You need a comprehensive dilated eye exam.


Dry AMD occurs when the light-sensitive cells in the macula slowly break down, gradually blurring central vision in the affected eye. As dry AMD gets worse, you may see a blurred spot in the center of your vision. Over time, as less of the macula functions, central vision is gradually lost in the affected eye.

The most common symptom of dry AMD is slightly blurred vision. You may have difficulty recognizing faces. You may need more light for reading and other tasks. Dry AMD generally affects both eyes, but vision can be lost in one eye while the other eye seems unaffected.

One of the most common early signs of dry AMD is drusen.

Drusen are yellow deposits under the retina. They often are found in people over age 60.

Drusen alone do not usually cause vision loss. In fact, scientists are unclear about the connection between drusen and AMD. They do know that an increase in the size or number of drusen raises a person’s risk of developing either advanced dry AMD or wet AMD. These changes can cause serious vision loss.

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a group of diseases that damage the eye’s optic nerve and can result in vision loss and blindness. However, with early detection and treatment, you can often protect your eyes against serious vision loss.

The optic nerve is a bundle of more than 1 million nerve fibers. It connects the retina to the brain. (See diagram right.) The retina is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. A healthy optic nerve is necessary for good vision.

How does the optic nerve get damaged by open-angle glaucoma?

Several large studies have shown that eye pressure is a major risk factor for optic nerve damage. In the front of the eye is a space called the anterior chamber. A clear fluid flows continuously in and out of the chamber and nourishes nearby tissues. The fluid leaves the chamber at the open angle where the cornea and iris meet. (See diagram below.) When the fluid reaches the angle, it flows through a spongy meshwork, like a drain, and leaves the eye.

pathway of aqueous fluid

Illustration of an eyeball in a healthy state and in glaucoma.In open-angle glaucoma, even though the drainage angle is “open”, the fluid passes too slowly through the meshwork drain. Since the fluid builds up, the pressure inside the eye rises to a level that may damage the optic nerve. When the optic nerve is damaged from increased pressure, open-angle glaucoma-and vision loss—may result. That’s why controlling pressure inside the eye is important.

Another risk factor for optic nerve damage relates to blood pressure. It is important to also make sure that your blood pressure is at a proper level for your body by working with your medical doctor.

What are the symptoms of glaucoma?

At first, open-angle glaucoma has no symptoms. It causes no pain. Vision stays normal. Glaucoma can develop in one or both eyes.

Without treatment, people with glaucoma will slowly lose their peripheral (side) vision. As glaucoma remains untreated, people may miss objects to the side and out of the corner of their eye. They seem to be looking through a tunnel. Over time, straight-ahead (central) vision may decrease until no vision remains.


For more information about glaucoma, see our story about U2’s Bono.

Is Marijuana a good treatment for glaucoma?

Studies have shown that the active ingredient in marijuana, THC, can be effective in lower the pressure inside the eye of those with glaucoma. It can be smoked, taken by mouth, under the tongue, or as an eye drop. The main problem with the use of marijuana for glaucoma treatment is two-fold:

  1. The short duration of action- how long the desired effect lasts. THC’s effect on lowering the pressure in the eye only last about 3 hours. A person would have to have another dose every 3-4 hours to be effective. This would not be a viable option for those who need to drive a car or operate machinery.
  2. Marijuana has side effects which can become troublesome to those who need to use it long term (glaucoma is a life long disease). Marijuana also lowers blood pressure. Lower blood pressure could result in reduced blood supply to the optic nerve, which in turn might harm the optic nerve.

The American Glaucoma Society makes the following statement in regards to the use of marijuana in the treatment of glaucoma:

“Summary:  Although marijuana can lower the intraocular pressure (IOP), its side effects and short duration of action, coupled with a lack of evidence that it use alters the course of glaucoma, preclude recommending this drug in any form for the treatment of glaucoma at the present time.”


Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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