Posted by: Ticktock | May 6, 2008

Brainless Marijuana Myths

My father is a proponent of legalizing certain drugs. He believes that the war on drugs has failed, that marijuana is relatively safe compared to legalized liquor and cigarettes, and that the medical benefits of THC far outweigh the dangers. My Dad mentioned his opinions to a colleague, who pointed out that marijuana kills 2000 brain cells with every puff. I don’t know where she got this information, or why it’s even considered relevant, but he asked me to investigate her statement… and so I have.

My first argument to this “fact” is that it doesn’t matter. People should be able to do whatever they want to their own body. Drinking whiskey in excess kills your liver, smoking several daily packs of Camels may give you lung cancer, and both are legal to purchase, sell, and own. There is no good reason for making pot illegal; it’s an unfair double standard. My second argument is that a lot of things kill human cells. Oxygen itself, while being a vital fuel for the human body, destroys cells every time we inhale. That’s why antioxidants are so popular- they help defend against the damage of free radicals created by the presence of oxygen.  Maybe we should outlaw oxygen???

I would also like to direct anyone who cares to the facts on the myth of today’s THC being much stronger than 20 years ago.  I don’t have time to take on that subject right now.  And the truth behind the pot slang term 420 is not the police code for drugs; it was a specific time some stoners in California met to get high- somehow it caught on in pop culture.

Back to the point, there are MANY studies on the effects of marijuana. I’ve chosen several that I feel represent both sides of the claim that weed kills brain cells…

  • Dr. Robert G. Heath was the first to study the loss of brain cells from smoking marijuana.  His studies on monkeys seemed to indicate that there was brain damage after the test subjects were exposed to massive exposure to cannibis.
  • William Slicker of the National Center for Toxicological Research replicated Heath’s study using better controls and a larger sample.  He was unable to find any brain damage or deterioration after a full year of the monkey’s in his study smoking skunk every day.   Charles Rebert and Gordon Pryor of SRI International also replicated the original study and concluded the same thing, that the monkeys had no brain damage after daily exposure to cannibis for a year.  Human studies of heavy users in Jamaica and Costa Rica found no evidence of abnormalities in brain physiology
  • Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon found that the administration of synthetic cannabinoids in rats stimulated the proliferation of newborn neurons (nerve cells) in the hippocampus region of the brain and significantly reduced measures of anxiety and depression-like behavior.  Did you catch that?  In this study marijuana stimulated brain cell growth.
  • Harvard Medical School did a study on 22 long-time pot smokers and failed to find any brain damage when compared to the non-potheads.  “When compared to control subjects, smokers displayed no significant adjusted differences in volumes of gray matter, white matter, cerebrospinal fluid, or left and right hippocampus. Moreover, hippocampal volume in cannabis users was not associated with age of onset of use nor total lifetime episodes of use. These findings are consistent with recent literature suggesting that cannabis use is not associated with structural changes within the brain as a whole or the hippocampus in particular.”

On the other side of the coin, there are some studies that are not as favorable toward the effects of cannibis.

  • A study confirmed the original research that marijuana doesn’t kill brain cells, but it discovered a new wrinkle in the data.  THC alone does not create neurodegeneration, but combine it with ethanol and you start seeing a brain cell funeral march.
  • Cannabis use may cause schizophrenia, but the results are inconclusive.  Cat poop may also cause schizophrenia, and it isn’t outlawed… much to humanity’s dismay.
  • A study by Dr. Lambros Messinis in the journal Neurology showed that long time pot smokers have impaired memory and mental processing speed.  Now what was I saying?

I couldn’t find any research that showed where my Dad’s colleague got the idea that pot kills 2000 brain cells with every puff.  Certainly scientists would never be able to measure with that kind of accuracy anyway.  Specific numbers aside, there isn’t any evidence that pot smoking alone degenerates the brain.  I know that there are a lot of biased sources on this matter out there in the internets, so I would be happy to accept any comments that may correct my conclusions.

*UPDATE 10/3/08* Marijuana is shown to fight antibiotic resistant bacteria such as MRSA.  More research must be done.



  1. Despite the fact that I’ve never touched the stuff, and never had a desire to, people don’t believe I’ve never smoked when I tell them that not only am I for the legalization of weed, but if it ever does happen, I’m going to become a farmer.

  2. Very true. I’ve also been a non-smoker, both marijuana and tobacco, for my entire life, but I also feel people should make their own decisions about it. Maybe if the stigma of marijuana as an illegal substance was removed, it would help reduce some of the misinformation about it.

  3. Yes, I’m the dad. I’ve believed that government control of illegal drugs would end the drug wars now going on. (The exception is meth because it can’t be administered safely. It is truly THE most dangerous drug out there, just above tobacco.) If the government administered drugs to addicts, slowly brought them down and gave them information to help them, there would be no profit motive to drug dealers. Prisons would empty out. Politically this is a firestorm. The government actually supplying herion to addicts with clean needles! Marijuana (and I’ve never smoked it) is probably as dangerous as Jack Daniels and both can be abused. One is legal and one should be to keep our law enforcement officers working on serious crime. I talked to a state trooper recently and he agreed with me!

  4. Ask any RESPONSIBLE marijuana user and you will find a common answer across the board, WTF!!! Of all the “dangerous drugs” available to the human race, pot is the only naturally occuring “drug” that isn’t processed, chemically made, or pharmacuetically pushed. Ever since prohibition in the 20’s, marijuana has been attacked as a dangerous drug and demonized by the government for it’s stereotypes and not it’s actual properties. Gateway? -Please… There are more deaths attributed to alcohol and cigarettes than marijuana could ever muster. The comment about the failed drug war in this country is spot on. We waste billions of dollars putting away “criminals” who have 1 oz or less of pot, ruining their lives, and leave them wondering why? Do we abuse people who choose to drink alcohol or smoke cigs? Of course not, but the governments control of those 2 industries seems to be a happy moneymaker, so why bother? If all drugs were made legal, there would still be those who abuse them and lose control, but with more money helping than hurting we can certainly find a better balance. Proud to be pro-marijuana for going on almost 25 yrs now and don’t plan on quitting anytime soon.

  5. I think marijuana is the gateway drug. Because it is illegal and you need to get it from illegal sources, they will try and get you to buy more expensive drugs that are smaller, easier to handle, and more expensive.

    If we are going to call it a war, lets conduct it like George Carlin suggested in Napalm and Silly Putty – “Many people in this country want to expand the death penalty to include drug dealers. This is really stupid. Drug dealers aren’t afraid to die. They’re already killin’ each other by the hundreds every day. Drive-bys, turf wars, gang killings. They’re not afraid to die. The death penalty means very little unless you use it on people who are afraid to die. Like the bankers who launder the drug money. Forget dealers. If you want to slow down the drug traffic, you have to start executing some of these white, middle class Republican bankers. And I don’t mean soft American execution like lethal injection. “

  6. *Update*

    A new study shows that marijuana use shrinks the amygdala (regulates emotion and memory) and the hippocampus (regulates memory). This clearly shows why chronic smokers of “chronic” have poor short term memory.

  7. I know someone who uses marijuana everyday and has been a 4.0 student for the last 3 years, has the higest average in the class, and who can remember tiny little details no one else can. So don’t judge till you try and don’t fall into the propaganda—–PLEASE!

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