We already know that marijuana does not harm brain cells. It certainly does not cause brain damage. This is evident by the mounds of research scientists publish almost daily these days. Even the Massachusetts Institute of Technology admits there is no evidence of it killing brain cells at all. Despite these facts, people still believe that it causes brain damage.
Perhaps the persistence of this belief dates to the 70s and 80s, when campaigns against drugs were so effective that society fell for the propaganda completely. Those campaigns told the masses that pot could damage the brain permanently, and today, many people are still afraid. Scientists, doctors, other medical professionals, and even civil society are now accepting that this is frankly untrue.
Michael Verbora, MD, a medical marijuana doctor at the Cannabinoid Medical Clinic in Toronto, explains the phenomena well, “It is just people who, unfortunately, are not well educated on it who continue to propagate that false myth.” Many still put cannabis in the same category as other recreational drugs, such as tobacco and alcohol, which do actually cause brain damage.
Strangely, though, cannabis does not. Here is the truth about the effects of marijuana on the brain:
The Brain on Marijuana: Permanent Effects
Over the last few decades, many researchers have analyzed how using marijuana affects the brain. None of them managed to identify a single permanent change occurring in the brains of cannabis users, even long-term ones. In fact, as chief medical officer at HelloMD and retired anesthesiologist Dr. Perry Solomon says, “Every study shows that it just does not kill brain cells.”
Scientists at the University of California – San Diego did a study compilation in 2003. They combined the findings of at least 15 earlier studies on the effects of pot on cognitive function. After scrutinizing the test profiles of 1,000 different subjects, the team concluded that weed lovers might enjoy minor memory and learning impairment during the “high,” but in no way are those effects permanent.
Likewise, a study done by researchers in 2015 at the University of California – Boulder and published in the Journal of Neuroscience, compared brain scan images of cannabis consumers against non-users. Their findings established no physical changes occurring in any major regions of the brain and no notable differences between the two.
The Brain on Marijuana: Temporary Effects
Although there is no evidence of marijuana use leading to lifelong brain damage, anyone who has ever used it knows that it definitely causes short-term cognitive impairment, particularly in the areas of learning and memory. In fact, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the psychoactive compound in marijuana responsible for these temporary effects, and this “high” is one of the main reasons for its popularity.
As Dr. Verbora explains, “We do know that temporarily using cannabis does work in areas of the brain that are involved in memory and learning, but it is completely reversible once the drug wears off.” As soon as the effects of THC wear off, the brain returns to its normal sober state. Researchers at Harvard University demonstrated this in 2001.
The team of researchers analyzed the cognitive performance of pot users both before and after giving up the drug. Participants had to complete several tests during a time of sustained abstinence, including memory, learning, attention, and intelligence tests. The findings established as fact that those who use pot heavily achieve lower memory test scores during the initial week of quitting.
Even so, within 28 days, all participants saw their scores returning to normal once again, prompting the team to conclude that even those who use cannabis daily are safe from irreversible mental changes. There is simply no evidence anywhere that marijuana kills brain cells, only that it affects cognitive function temporarily while users are high on THC.
Marijuana Actually Heals the Brain
In contrast, we now know that cannabis has a positive, healing effect on the brain, and not just temporarily either, but over the long-term. Mounds of evidence exist proving its exceptional medicinal value, and in fact, many scientists are finding that cannabinoids, which are the active molecules in cannabis, can effectively treat an array of degenerative disorders of the brain, such as Parkinson and Alzheimer diseases.
“The U.S. government does hold a patent on the antioxidant and neuroprotective effects of cannabinoids,” Dr. Verbora imparted. “If you read through the patent, they believe that cannabinoids actually might help with brain damage.” Many studies found cannabinoids acting as neuroprotective and antioxidant agents, such as this one published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
All of this evidence suggests that, instead of killing brain cells, marijuana is actually protecting and healing them. Even animal studies corroborate these claims. Scientists discovered that cannabinoids, including THC and cannabidiol, or CBD, are able to stimulate neurogenesis in mice. The process of neurogenesis involves the production of new brain cells, not the destruction of them.
It is important to note that while it is impossible for marijuana to damage an adult brain, experts are not so certain about its effect on adolescents. The brain is still developing during adolescence, which makes it more vulnerable to potentially
negative effects. As Dr. Solomon said, “I think when the brain is developing and growing and maturing that there could be effects to using marijuana.”
However, all this is conjecture to fill a lack of scientific evidence. There are no studies able to quantify any negative impact of cannabis on developing brains. In fact, one landmark study published in Science in 2016 conducted two separate tests and analyzed more than 3,000 participants. The twin studies found no link between teenagers using marijuana and lower IQ levels.
The results of this study contradicted an early 2012 study conducted by researchers in New Zealand. That study indicated a possible association between heavy cannabis consumption starting during adolescence and a notable decline in later life IQ. However, no other study unearthed similar findings and many are questioning the scientific methodology of the New Zealand study itself.
Marijuana Smoke Could Risk the Brain
Although marijuana itself does not kill brain cells or even harm them, the method of administration that people choose just might. Smoking is the most widespread and popular way to consume marijuana, but experts warn that it may be risky. “It is the fact that when you smoke for temporary periods of time, your brain loses oxygen in some areas and, under a microscope, there could be some cellular damage.”
Those are the words of Dr. Verbora, who recommends eliminating this risk entirely by choosing another route of delivery. Smokeless vaporizers are ideal for those who enjoy the act of inhaling, but there are also tinctures, oils, edibles, and other forms of marijuana extract to enjoy. The effects of edibles, for example, last much longer, and they protect the lungs and brain from potentially deadly smoke.
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