This Is Your Brain on Drugs.. Any Questions?
Let’s start with the classics. Here something you might remember if you’re 30 and up.
And yes, dear egg chef, actually I do have a question.
“Does marijuana really kill brain cells?”
OH – questions like these bring me to back to my childhood.
I’m in elementary school. We had police officers come in and talk about drugs. It was called the DARE program – a clever acronym which stood for Drug Abuse, Resistance, Education. I honestly don’t remember too much about the actual class other than teasing the officer about gangster rap and asking him if he listened to NWA. (Yes, in retrospect, quite ballsy for a 4th grader. I’m probably more scared of cops now at age 30.) But I feel like that’s the kind of quaint easily remembered tidbits kids walk away with from a class like DARE.
It also brings up a vague memory of my stoned brother telling me – in all seriousness – that yes, smoking weed kills brain cells but do you know how many brain cells we have? Like a million. So it doesn’t make any difference. I nodded and left it like that. What did I care? I was in 6th grade and weed was just something Dr. Dre and Cypress Hill rapped about, as obscure to me as gang bangin’ and hustlin’ on the streets.
It’s funny now to see this question creep back up online. You can find people asking on drug forums and Yahoo Answers. So let’s see if we can possibly settle the question once and for.
First, let’s make sure we even know what we’re talking about though. If people are going to say pot destroys brain cells, let’s look at just what a brain cell is in the first.
Brain Cells, Neurons, and Weed..Oh My.
So what is a brain cell?
It’s actually a neuron. At least, that’s what wikipedia redirects you to if you try to go to their page on brain cells.
Side note: “Smoking Marijuana Kills Neurons” just doesn’t have the same punch in the gut, does it?
I actually understand a bit about how the brain works (well, no one really understands how the brain works, eh…) so let’s see if I try my hand at explaining this like so
- Think of the brain as a giant communication network.
- Little bits of information communicate along this network via something called synapses. They do it by pushing around electric bits and chemical bits.
- These little bits of information ARE the neurons themselves. Or, as you wish, the brain cells.
So if someone makes the claim the marijuana kills brain cells, they are saying that marijuana destroys the neurons in your brain – this tiny little thingy that consists of a a cell body, dendrites, and an axon (whatever that means). And so the inference is that it effects ones ability to think because, well, you’re killing the messenger, quite literally, with all that green.
Is is true, though?
Is It true, Though?
One thing that should catch your eye about brain cells / neurons dying in adults is that once they’re dead, they’re basically dead. They don’t really come back for the most part. So if you’re doing something that actively kills them, that’s kinda freaky.
Also it turns out my brother was right about at least one thing: there are a shit ton of neurons in our brains. Like something in the order of 100 billion. If I’ve got my zeros right, that’s 100,000,000,000 brain cells. Nice.
So does weed kill these cells or not?
The results are…. inconclusive.
Shitty, huh? I was dying to tell you that it was all a bunch of bunk but I suppose I’ll be a good journalist and just report the facts. Here’s a look at the relevant scientific data from a couple different studies:
- Those toking up 7 or more times a week weren’t as good at a math test or a verbal expression test compared to non-smokers.
- Those toking up 7 or more times a week might not transfer new experiences and information as well as non-smokers into their long term memory.
But then the same data goes on to say there’s not enough evidence to show a direct relationship between marijuana and the results. As in, maybe whatever predisposes those people to smoking so much weed is actually the cause behind their math and memory ills. D’oh.
- Oh, and there’s also this great study that had some poor monkeys forced to inhale the equivalent of almost half a dozen joints a day. There brains were just as good as their monkey comrades who weren’t getting high as hell all day long. So I guess we know for monkeys the answer to the question but still aren’t exactly sure what it means for us.
So I guess the moral of the story is this:
If you smoke every single day, you might not be doing the best thing for your brain. Maybe.
But killing neurons?
Who knows. The damn scientists can’t seem to figure it out one way or the other. But it does seem clear that the idea that when you light up you fry your brain is entirely an exaggeration. It did make a cool commercial though.
Feel free to rant and rave about this pot and brain damage below. Oh, and if you can reference a study to make your point, even better!