Does Marijuana Kill Brain Cells?

by HelloMD Staff

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 wondered if it's true. But the truth is cannabis is a complex substance and many of its benefits are just now being uncovered.

While some evidence to shows that excessive cannabis consumption can lead to difficulties with learning and attention span, there's a great deal of information that proves cannabis can help—rather than hurt—the brain. Instead of killing brain cells, cannabis may actually stimulate the production of new ones. It can also block some of the negative effects of cognitive stress and protect consumers from various forms of dementia. Indeed, marijuana may actually benefit the human brain much more than researchers previously thought.

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Marijuana Can Help Create New Brain Cells

Until recently, it was thought that new brain cells stopped forming after a certain point in our lives. However, today, it's clear that our brains never truly stop growing. This process of brain cell creation is called neurogenesis—and it takes place throughout our lives. Many things can stimulate neurogenesis, and marijuana is one of them.

According to an Italian study published in a 2013 issue of Neurochemistry International, there's a unique chemical contained in cannabis 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 against various cognitive disorders, such as depression.

Marijuana Can Protect the Brain From Stress

Stress is a major factor in nearly all chronic diseases—too much of it can easily have a negative impact on your health. 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 conditions such as depression and anxiety. Cannabis is anecdotally known as an effective stress reliever, and now scientists in Israel have found that certain chemical compounds within the plant can actually protect the brain from the effects of stress.

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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 short-term memory and learning capacity within study participants. Chronic stress is something many adults contend with, and this research is helping medical professionals understand what a powerful treatment marijuana may be for the harmful effects of excess stress.

In One Study, Marijuana Killed Brain Cells That Were Cancerous

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 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 with THC, the size of their tumors shrank significantly. The study also included two human subjects with an aggressive type of brain cancer. After a 26- and 30-day treatment with THC, researchers found that THC was actually able to eliminate these subjects' cancer cells while leaving healthy brain tissue intact-so it seems that in some cases, marijuana does kill brain cells.

While more research is needed to fully solidify the anti-cancer properties of marijuana, it's clear that cannabis may one day become a primary go-to for healthy, non-toxic brain cancer treatment.

Marijuana May Protect and Restore Brain Cells

Alzheimer's disease is a particularly aggressive form of dementia that robs people of their memory, cognitive abilities and behavioral patterns. It's currently the most common form of dementia known to doctors and doesn't have a cure. Though marijuana is not often associated with increasing memory, research published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B has shown that cannabinoids contained within marijuana can 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 restorative 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 promising treatment for difficult cognitive disorders.

Evidence Suggests That Marijuana Doesn't Kill Brain Cells

While opponents of cannabis are quick to point out that marijuana damages the brain, many studies are now debunking the myth that marijuana kills brain cells. In fact, the cannabinoids found within marijuana may actually help 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.

Author: Dr. Perry Solomon 

Photo Credit: Michael

If you're new to cannabis and want to learn more, take a look at our Cannabis 101 post. HelloMD can help you get your medical marijuana recommendation; it's easy, private and 100% online.