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.