Does Marijuana Kill Brain Cells?

byPerry Solomon, MD4 minutes

We've all heard the refrain "marijuana makes you stupid" or "cannabis kills brain cells," and, at some point or another, many of us have probably wondered if it's true. The truth is that cannabis is a complex substance and many of its benefits are just now being uncovered.

While there has been some evidence to show that excess cannabis consumption can lead to difficulties with learning and attention span, there is a great deal of information available to consumers that proves cannabis can actually help, rather than hurt, the brain. From stimulating the production of new brain cells to helping block the cognitive effects of chronic stress and protecting consumers from various forms of dementia, marijuana may benefit the human brain much more than researchers previously thought.

Cannabis & Neurogenesis

Up until recently, scientists believed that our brains stopped growing at a certain point in our lives. Today, however, it's clear that our brains never truly stop growing. The process of brain growth is called neurogenesis, and it takes place throughout our lives. There are many things that can stimulate neurogenesis, and marijuana is one of them.

According to an Italian study published in a 2013 issue of Neurochemistry International, there is a unique chemical contained in cannabis that's known as cannabichromene (CBC). CBC actually boosts the functionality and availability of developing brain cells. The study found that, in addition to helping preserve the health of the brain by stimulating the growth of new brain cells, CBC can also help protect people who consume it from various cognitive disorders, such as depression.

Marijuana & Stress

Stress is a major factor in nearly all chronic diseases, and too much of it can easily have a negative impact on our health. In fact, research has shown that, because stress actually re-wires the way that the brain works over time, excessive stress is a significant risk factor for difficult conditions such as depression and anxiety. Luckily for people who consume cannabis, scientists in Israel have found that certain chemical compounds within the herb can actually help protect the brain from the effects of stress.

According to the authors of a 2012 study published in the prominent journal Neuropsychopharmacology, the cannabinoids that occur naturally in marijuana have the potential to protect the brain from certain stress-induced disorders. While researchers still aren't sure exactly how cannabis is able to do this, the study indicated that doses of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) improved things such as short-term memory and learning capacity within study participants. While chronic stress is something many adults contend with, this research is helping medical professionals understand what a powerful treatment marijuana may be for the harmful effects of excess stress.

Cannabis & Brain Cancer

While brain cancer is relatively rare, the thought alone is terrifying to many people. Luckily for people who consume cannabis, research from a team of Spanish scientists has shown that THC may actually shrink brain tumors. The study, which was conducted by Guillermo Velasco and his Complutense University colleagues, used mice inflicted with human tumors as study subjects. The researchers found that when the mice were administered THC, the size of their tumors shrank markedly.

The study also contained two human subjects with aggressive types of brain cancer. After a 26- and 30-day treatment with THC, researchers found that THC was actually able to kill these subjects' cancer cells while leaving healthy brain tissue intact. While more research is needed to fully solidify the anti-cancer properties of marijuana, it's clear that cannabis may well become a primary go-to for healthy and non-toxic cancer treatment.

Cannabis & Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's disease is a particularly aggressive form of dementia that robs people suffering from the condition of their memory, cognitive abilities and behavioural patterns. While it’s currently the most common form of dementia known to doctors, it doesn’t have a cure. Though marijuana is not often associated with increasing memory in consumers, research published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B has shown that cannabinoids contained within marijuana can actually help the brain restore damaged cells, which can mitigate the effects of conditions such as Huntington's disease, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

A well-known anti-inflammatory, marijuana exerts these effects by slowing or decreasing the brain inflammation often associated with these conditions. This, combined with the fact that cannabinoids actually act as powerful antioxidants in the brain, renders marijuana a highly effective treatment for difficult cognitive disorders.

So, Does Marijuana Kill Brain Cells?

While opponents of cannabis are quick to claim that cannabis damages the brain, there is a healthy body of research to suggest exactly the opposite. Studies like 2015's Journal of Neuroscience research prove that cannabis doesn't kill brain cells and, in fact, that the cannabinoids contained within the herb may actually help to rebuild them. From assisting in neurogenesis to protecting against cognitive decline and chronic stress, marijuana is a complex compound that offers a whole host of well-noted benefits. So, the next time someone tells you that cannabis will pickle your brain, you may just choose to tell them that the truth is actually the opposite.

Photo Credit: Michael