Published in Retina

Meet the Winners of Ocular Disease Case Study Week: Denise A. Valenti, OD, FAAO

This post is sponsored by Carl Zeiss Meditec Professional Education
4 min read

Meet the third-place winner in Ocular Disease Case Study Week. Learn more about what Denise A. Valenti, OD, FAAO, discovered about how marijuana impacts retinal ganglion cells.

Meet the Winners of Ocular Disease Case Study Week: Denise A. Valenti, OD, FAAO
Ocular Disease Case Study Week—created in partnership with ZEISS Professional Education—brought together optometrists across the globe to increase disease knowledge through the sharing of unique case studies, diagnostic scans, and workflow protocols.
After sharing the top four cases on the @eyesoneyecare.optometry channel from December 5th-9th, 2022, followers voted on their top picks.
Below is the third-place case study. Keep reading to see what made Denise A. Valenti, OD, FAAO, stand out.

Third place: Denise A. Valenti, OD, FAAO

Case Study: Acute marijuana use: Functional findings of retinal ganglion cell impairment

Background and Methods:

We evaluated, using basic screening protocols, two participants who reported to have self-dosed with their own legal recreational marijuana twenty minutes earlier. Additionally, we used a visual field screening technology assessing visual field function within the central forty degrees of vision. We elected to use the instrument’s threshold strategy rather than screen program. Tests of psychomotor performance; including tests of visuospatial field perception, have the potential to demonstrate the impact of cannabis consumption.
Cannabis impacts vision with reports of increased function in periphery1 and decreases in other functions.2
Understanding deficits associated with cannabis is particularly critical for tasks such as driving.
The stimulus is a low spatial frequency grating of 10°, presented at 1 of 17 test locations, shown below. The grating alternates at 25 Hz. The frequency doubling illusion is the subjective perception that the grating has twice the number of dark and light bars (i.e., its spatial frequency appears to be 0.50 cpd), as shown in the diagram.

Cannabinoids and the Retina:

Cannabinoid receptors exist throughout the retina.3 Cannabis depletes retinal dopamine.4 Retinal amacrine cells are involved in processing acetylcholine and cannabinoids disrupt this neuroprocessing in the retina.5 To the right is an image of the retina. Cannabinoid receptors are shown in green, acetylcholine is yellow, and dopamine is depicted with red.

Outcome: Retinal Ganglion Cell Dysfunction:

Disruptions in neurotransmitter balance due to disease, medications or drugs can result in dysfunction in the retinal ganglion cells (RGCs). Chronic cannabis use, as well as acute use, causes dysfunction in the RGCs.6 Functional tests can demonstrate such losses. Below is an example of retinal ganglion cell dysfunction specific to dopamine depletion in Parkinson’s.7
The next image is an example of acetylcholine inhibition secondary to medication, methotrexate.8 The three images below are the results of the cannabis group. The far left is a normal result from a person who had not used cannabis. The others are from two males, age 24 years old and 22 years old, who had used marijuana twenty minutes earlier.


Acute use of marijuana has already been reported to cause retinal ganglion cell dysfunction. These cases demonstrate the functional impairment that is caused by marijuana use. Further study is important as the functional deficits that this measures; contrast and temporal processing, are important for safe driving.
References from Acute Marijuana Use: Functional Findings of Retinal Ganglion Cell Impairment Case Study
1. Russo EB, Merzouki A, Mesa JM, Frey KA, Bach PJ. Cannabis improves night vision: a case study of dark adaptometry and scotopic sensitivity in kif smokers of the Rif mountains of northern Morocco. J Ethnopharmacol. 2004;93(1):99-104.
2. Adams AJ, Brown B, Haegerstrom-Portnoy G, Flom MC, Jones RT. Marijuana, alcohol, and combined drug effects on the time course of glare recovery. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 1978;56(1):81-86.
3. Straiker A, Stella N, Piomelli D, Mackie K, Karten HJ, Maguire G. Cannabinoid CB1 receptors and ligands in vertebrate retina: localization and function of an endogenous signaling system. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1999;96(25):14565-14570.
4. Mills SL, Massey SC. AII amacrine cells limit scotopic acuity in central macaque retina: A confocal analysis of calretinin labeling. J Comp Neurol. 1999;411(1):19-34.
5. Strang CE, Renna JM, Amthor FR, Keyser KT. Muscarinic acetylcholine receptor localization and activation effects on ganglion response properties. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2010;51(5):2778-2789.
6. Schwitzer T, Schwan R, Albuisson E, et al. Association Between Regular Cannabis Use and Ganglion Cell Dysfunction. JAMA Ophthalmol. 2017;135(1):54-60.
7 Valenti DA, et al. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2005 May; 46(5):626
8 Valenti DA et al. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2006 May; 47(5):4480
Denise A. Valenti, OD, FAAO
About Denise A. Valenti, OD, FAAO

Denise A. Valenti, OD, FAAO, is currently is owner of IMMAD-Impairment Measurement Marijuana and Driving. The company provided education, services and technology for the responsible use of cannabis. The current emphasis is on the technology IMMAD. IMMAD is a two minute objective test for law enforcement use to determine fitness to drive with marijuana consumption.

The science behind IMMAD is complex, but the test is simple. Dr. Denise A. Valenti is a residency-trained, low-vision/blind-rehabilitation optometrist with additional education and expertise in the field of age-related neurodegenerative diseases with the emphasis on Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease.

Dr. Valenti has had additional training as an MGH/MIT/HMS Functional MRI Fellow at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging in Boston, Massachusetts and participated in the yearlong seminar series offered through the Boston University Sleep Disorders Center Fellowship program.

Her research has included the study of imaging of retinal neural tissue using Optical Coherence Tomography and functional assessment of neural processing in the visual system using Frequency Doubling Technology. Dr. Valenti provided direct clinical care for more than 25 years and currently is active in research and consultation related to vision, aging, neuroprocessing and cognitive functions. Dr. Valenti has taught Low Vision and Geriatrics at the MCPHS University School of Optometry and Gerontology at Quincy College and provides medical content to numerous professional newsletters throughout the United States.

Denise A. Valenti, OD, FAAO