Does marijuana kill brain cells? Despite what anti-marijuana lobbyists say, marijuana does not kill brain cells.
The notion that marijuana kills brain cells, lowers your IQ, and makes you a non-functioning member of society is a myth that has been propagated by 1930s anti-marijuana legislation and America’s War on Drugs. These statements, aside from the study on IQ which will be addressed below, are not based on any actual scientific evidence. Instead, they are a result of fear-mongering and alternative motives to push everything from pharmaceuticals to paper productions.
In fact, many pro-marijuana advocates in 2018 claim cannabis helps increase their productivity, creativity, athletic stamina, and more.
Does Marijuana Kill Brain Cells? No! Let’s Look At The Facts
The IQ Test
In 2012, a group of New Zealand scientists published a study that looked at the relationship between marijuana consumption and IQ. This study has gone on to be one of the most popular studies used to demonstrate that cannabis lowers your IQ and kills brain cells. However, the study is not that cut and dry.
Over the course of 25 years, this group of researchers tracked 1,000 participants and compared their IQs. The participants took one IQ test at age 13 and another at age 38. The study showed that people who used cannabis regularly had an average IQ that was 8 points lower than their non-cannabis using counterparts.
However, the IQ drop was only present in people who began using cannabis before the age of 18. Also, the environmental and socioeconomic factors of the participant’s lives were not taken into consideration. It is unclear whether those who had a steep drop in IQ were also using other substances (like cigarettes and alcohol) and their rate of use was not tracked either. For example, did they drop out of school or attend college? Did they have supportive parents and a happy home life? Did they binge drink as well? Those elements are important factors when it comes to IQ, and they were not explored.
Short Term Memory Loss
Anyone who has used marijuana knows that short-term memory loss is a problem when you consume cannabis frequently. This is considered a temporary negative effect on the brain, but it does not mean that your brain cells are dying. In fact, in 2001 Harvard did a study on the short-term memory loss associated with cannabis smoking. They found that participants did have memory loss while under the influence, but after they stopped using the plant, their memory returned to its normal state.
Another study in 2003 showed that even long-term heavy users show only a minimal difference from people that never used cannabis. The study was conducted by lead researcher Igor Grant MD, who claimed “We were somewhat surprised by our finding, especially since there’s been a controversy for some years on whether long-term cannabis use causes brain damage...I suppose we expected to see some difference in people who were heavy users, but in fact, the differences were very minimal."
In that case, it might be worth the minimal difference if you gain other incredible benefits from using the plant.
Smoking as a Teenager
While research supports the finding that marijuana does not kill brain cells in adults, the same does not apply to teens. In fact, teens are very susceptible to brain damage from many substances, including but not limited to alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and street drugs.
Thanks to movies like Reefer Madness, teens are incredibly skeptical when adults tell them not to use marijuana. Obviously, marijuana does not turn you into a raving, chaotic lunatic.
However, because teenagers’ brains are still maturing and sensitive, using cannabis can impair their brain’s ability to form properly. The areas affected tend to be those that related to emotional self-control and memory. Scientifically, these areas of the brain are known as the amygdala and hippocampus. These same areas are also damaged by underage alcohol consumption.
Benefits of Cannabinoids (Hint: One of them is fighting brain cell damage!)
Assuming that you are an adult with a fully developed brain, using cannabis is very safe and will not kill off your brain cells. In fact, the compounds in marijuana are non-toxic and can actually improve brain function and fight brain cell damage. Full-spectrum CBD contains several vitamins and minerals that can dramatically boost your health, including Vitamin D, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and fatty acids. Believe it or not, 100 mg of hemp seeds contain 9g of Omega-3 and 28g of Omega-6. These essential fatty acids are proven to boost brain health and cardiovascular health. Additionally, hemp is non-psychoactive.
The antioxidants in cannabis also protect your brain from cellular damage. The evidence of the benefits of cannabis to your brain and other parts of your body are overwhelming.
Marijuana Doesn’t Kill Brain Cells – Smoking Does
Here’s the truth: smoking anything kills brain cells. However, that is not specific to marijuana. Cigarettes are known to be toxic and cause cancer, yet they are legal and sold with very little restrictions anyway. In the majority of the states in the U.S., it is way easier to buy a pack of cigarettes than it is to buy cannabis. And, tobacco has little to no medicinal value. Any time you burn plant matter and inhale it, you will lower the oxygen in your body and as a result, kill brain cells.
There are several ways you can use marijuana aside from smoking it. Some popular options include tinctures, edibles, and topical products. You can also consume cannabis by vaping instead of smoking, which is less harmful to your lungs.
Cannabis vs. Alcohol – Which Causes More Brain Damage?
As long as you are an adult of legal consenting age, you can take your pick of several mind-altering substances including alcohol, coffee, sugar, and cannabis. Although alcohol is largely considered socially acceptable, it is incredibly toxic to your brain and body in general. The active ingredients in cannabis are non-toxic. The active ingredients in alcohol are. When you drink alcohol, your body produces metabolites to digest the substance. These metabolites, like acetaldehyde, are toxic to all cells in your body ? including brain cells. This is the reason why you can get a hangover from drinking alcohol.
In fact, in 2017 Thayer et al. performed a study looking at the negative effects of alcohol on brain cells. In the study, researchers found that alcohol use for both adults and teens results in lower gray matter and higher white matter volume in the brain. Gray matter parts of the brain control your muscles, sensory perceptions like seeing and hearing, and govern memory, emotion, speech, and decision-making. White matter usually only shows up in the brains of elderly people or those with diseases like MS. White matter affects the connection of the brain to the spinal column, and can cause numbness, weakness, and cognitive dysfunction.
In another study, researchers compared the brains of people who only use cannabis vs. people who only use alcohol. Participants were ages 18-55. The result of the study was that alcohol was far more damaging to the brain than cannabis. In fact, the study found that cannabis does not cause any of the damaging effects that alcohol does. So the next time you feel like using cannabis to unwind rather than having a glass of wine, go for it! You can rest easy knowing you won’t be killing any brain cells.