Does weed kill brain cells?

No, weed does not kill brain cells. But it can quicken age related memory loss. Still, long term physical alteration of the brain has not been linked to marijuana use. More on structural changes in the brain and marijuana here.

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Marijuana affects the brain. But marijuana DOES NOT kill brain cells, although there is more evidence that marijuana cause brain damage.  We offer a brief review of research on marijuana and the brain below.

Marijuana and the brain

Marijuana affects your brain. The main active ingredient in marijuana is called THC. THC affects the nerve cells in different parts of the brain. As THC binds to nerve receptors in the brain (Ex. in the nucleus accumbens, the cerebellum or the basal ganglia) the brain responds by altering functions in the body or mind. This is why you can feel high on weed, or experience heightened sensory perception, or become clumsy. Each of these effects begin as chemical reactions in the brain.

Hippocampus – THC alters how information is processed in the hippocampus and can result in lost memory, difficulty with attention and focus.  Memory loss and weed are at the center of current research on the brain.

Cerebellum and basal ganglia – THC binds to cannabinoid receptors in these parts of the brain and impairs balance, posture, coordination, and reaction time.

Nucleus accumbens – THC activates the brain’s reward system by stimulating brain cells to release the chemical dopamine. This is why you feel high when you smoke weed.

Marijuana and long term changes in the brain

Experts have not linked chronic cannabis to permanent structural changes in the brain. But marijuana’s effects on the brain can build up over time. In addition to possible decreases in mental flexibility and focus over time, potheads are at higher risk of changing serotonin and norepinephrine levels in the brain (thereby affecting depression and anxiety), developing schizophrenia and/or mood disorders. Although no official evidence exists linking brain deterioration to chronic marijuana use, critical life skills have been self-reported by potheads to worsen over time. Marijuana can negatively affect:

  • career achievement
  • cognitive abilities
  • mental health
  • physical health
  • social life

Not to mention memory loss…

Perhaps when you’re asking, “Does weed kill brain cells?”, you really want to know if weed makes you stupid, or if memory loss is permanent when you smoke. The short answer is that most THC-related effects on the brain wear off after acute exposure, or are restored when you abstain from marijuana for 4-8 weeks. However, experts do not yet know of the long term effects and permanent changes marijuana can cause on the brain, especially to memory processing

As people age, they lose neurons in the hippocampus, which decreases their ability to learn new information. This is part of the normal aging process. But when you smoke weed, you may actually speed up the loss of these neurons, resulting in loss of memory. In fact, chronic THC exposure in animals has been shown to quicken related loss of hippocampus neurons. Rats exposed to THC every day for 8 months (approximately 30 % of their lifespan) showed a level of nerve cell loss that equaled that of unexposed animals twice their age.

In conclusion, although chronic marijuana use does not kill brain cells directly, smoking daily can trigger early loss of memory and alter your brain in ways that we do not yet know.

Marijuana problems?

Eating weed to get high is a sign that you can get addicted to marijuana.  But in addition to psychological symptoms of addiction, physical symptoms may also be present.  Are you noticing a loss of memory or brain function as a result of smoking chronic weed? Are you worried that you cannot stop smoking weed because you may get depressed? Or do you think you should cut back on your weed intake? These are all signs that you may be addicted to marijuana. You CAN get help. Please leave your questions here, and we’ll direct you to information or services for weed addiction. We respond to all earnest queries personally!

Reference sources:
How Does Marijuana Use Affect Your Brain and Body?
Is There a Link Between Marijuana Use and Mental Illness?
MIT student newsletter, “Myths about marijuana”
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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