There are many ongoing studies about marijuana and its effect on the brain. Some people argue it kills brain cells, some say it causes brain damage. We know it affects the brain, but that’s not enough to determine whether it kills brain cells. We must truly understand what marijuana is, and how it affects the brain before coming to a conclusion.
Does smoking marijuana actually kill brain cells?
Marijuana is a greenish-gray mixture of the dried, shredded leaves and flowers of Cannabis sativa, otherwise known as the hemp plant. It is also called weed, herb, and pot, among other nicknames, and is typically used by smoking via a pipe, water pipe, or hand-rolled cigarettes called joints. It can also be used to brew tea or mixed into foods to create “edibles,” like cookies, brownies, and other candies.
The main active ingredient in marijuana is THC, which affects nerve cells in various areas of the brain. By binding to nerve receptors in the brain, THC alters functions in the body or mind, thus causing a high when using the drug. THC affects the following areas of the brain:
- Cerebellum and basal ganglia — THC binds to cannabinoid receptors here, which in turn impair balance, coordination, reaction time, and posture.
- Hippocampus — THC alters information processing in this area, which can possibly result in difficulty focusing and paying attention, as well as memory loss.
- Nucleus accumbens — THC activates the brain’s reward system by stimulating brain cells to release dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate movement and emotional responses.
While marijuana is proven to have effects on the brain that may be negative, experts have not yet linked chronic use to any permanent structural changes in the brain. But, just because evidence hasn’t shown brain deterioration to chronic marijuana use, doesn’t mean it can’t have other negative effects. In fact, its effects on the brain can build up over time, which can include higher risk of depression and anxiety due to changes in serotonin and norepinephrine levels. It can also cause the development of schizophrenia and/or mood disorders. Marijuana has the power to affect the career, cognitive abilities, mental health, physical health, and social life of a chronic user.
Marijuana can also affect memory loss, which is what many people assume happens when brain cells are killed. There is a lot research about this, but essentially THC-related effects on the brain will wear off after acute exposure. Abstaining from marijuana for 4-8 weeks can help restore some of those negative effects as well. Ultimately, there’s a lot we don’t know about marijuana and its effects on memory loss and the brain, so it is not considered safe.
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