Does Weed Kill Brain Cells?
When I was a kid, I asked my grandmother why people called dandelions ‘weeds’. She said, “Because they have a bad publicist.” For a long time, there weren’t many plants with a worse reputation than cannabis. A lot of dubious claims were made about what might happen to you if you used it, and you’ve probably wondered about yourself what is fact and what is myth? Does smoking weed kill brain cells? Will smoking weed permanently damage your brain? Can you overdose on weed? With the increasing legality of cannabis in the United States we are closer than ever to the truth about weed and its effects on the body and brain. In this article we’ll get to the bottom of what exactly weed is, what it does, how it works, and what you can expect when you use it. Let’s get started.
What is Weed?
Weed has more nicknames than my dog (and like all beloved pets, he has a lot of nicknames). Grass, dope, pot, and many more. Weed generally refers to flowers of one of the three species of cannabis plants: cannabis indica, cannabis sativa, and cannabis ruderalis. Once these flowers are harvested, dried, and cured, the resulting buds can then be smoked or used in cooking. The plants can also have their chemical compounds extracted using a variety of methods, and the extracts can be made into a variety of products, including tinctures, topicals, liquid for vaping, or concentrates that can be used as dabs.
Cannabis plants are rich in cannabinoids, which are naturally occurring compounds found in plants as well as created by your own body (more on that soon). There are many kinds of cannabinoids in cannabis that work together to have a wide range of effects, both recreational and therapeutic, but the most common are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). When cannabis is smoked or ingested, the cannabinoids enter your blood stream where they interact with a network of sensors throughout your body known as the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The Endocannabinoid System
So, what exactly is the endocannabinoid system? For an in-depth answer, read our article here, but we can do a thorough overview. The ECS is the network inside your body responsible for returning the other systems in your body to homeostasis. If you don’t remember your high school biology class, homeostasis is the natural state of balance your body wants to achieve so that it can function its best.
The ECS is made up of three parts. The first is the endocannabinoids themselves, which are cannabinoids that your body produces on its own. When something in your body is out of balance, it generates these endocannabinoids and sends them to the second part of the system, your body’s endocannabinoid receptors. There are two types of these receptors, CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors. The endocannabinoids bind with these receptors to either activate or deactivate them, depending on what is needed to bring the body back into balance. After the cannabinoids have done their job at the receptor site, the ECS sends in its third component, the enzymes that process the cannabinoid so that it can be flushed from the body.
When I say the ECS helps balance the other systems, I don’t just mean a few. Research has shown that ECS is involved in regulating the performance of many of the body’s most important functions. These include:
- Cardiovascular system
- Liver function
- Reproductive function
- Digestive system
- Muscle formation
- Learning and focus
- Bone growth
These are just a few of the many activities within the body that the ECS maintains. While it is clear that the ECS has influence throughout the body, the highest density of receptors is in the brain. The question of how exactly weed affects the brain is still being answered. Thanks to the increasing legality for the medicinal and recreational use of cannabis, we are learning more every day. Still, you’re likely to have some questions about how using cannabis will impact your body.
Does Weed Kill Brain Cells?
According to the evidence we have, it does not appear that smoking weed kills brain cells. A 2015 study showed that cannabis use is not associated with altering the size and shape of the brain. However, that does not mean that using cannabis does not affect brain cells or brain function. We know that weed contains psychoactive compounds that interact with receptors in the brain. But what are its actual effects?
Short-Term Effects of Cannabis
Using cannabis has many effects on the body and the brain. Those we understand most clearly are the short-term effects because they are easily observable and reportable. These include the benefits of weed that make it a popular choice for both recreational and medicinal users. Some of these benefits include:
- Pain relief
- Anxiety relief
- Sleep aid
While there are many benefits, users also sometimes report negative short-term effects of cannabis. These include:
- Delayed reaction time
A variety of factors can contribute to an individual’s experience using cannabis. These include product quality, dosage, weight, gender, and usage history. To learn more about these factors and finding the ideal dosage for you, read our article here. While we know a good amount about what happens to the body directly after using cannabis, what about the long-term ramifications?
Does Weed Permanently Damage Your Brain?
There have been many studies on what the long-term impact of cannabis use on the brain might be, and right now the verdict is split. However, one thing that the scientific community is beginning to come to a consensus on are the risk factors for using cannabis when underage.
Cannabis Use in Adolescents
Research is still underway, but studies have shown that there may be a relationship between underage cannabis use and certain long-term cognitive effects. A review of studies conducted in 2015 showed an association between adolescent cannabis use and long-term memory and attention deficits. A separate study conducted in 2017 showed that heavy cannabis usage in teenagers could be connected to lower IQ scores and cognitive impairment. Studies are ongoing to better understand the relationship between cannabis use and the cognitive development of younger people.
Cannabis Use in Adults
The information available on the lasting impact of cannabis use in adults is less clear. There are many studies being done, but because it is so difficult to account for all variables, the results are often in conflict. Some studies, like this one done in 2016, found associations between cannabis use and verbal memory scores. Still, a different study concluded that there were no clear associations between volume or duration of cannabis use and cognitive function. In fact, there have even been studies that have shown that THC has neuroprotective properties.
The exact nature of the relationship between cannabis use and cognitive function over extended periods of use are still being researched today. Thanks to the increasing acceptance of cannabis in society and the medical community, we’re likely to learn much more in the coming years.
Can Weed Kill You?
It’s reasonable to find yourself worried about a consequence that is a little more dire than a slightly lower score on a verbal memory test. If you’re worried about whether using weed will kill you, let me put your mind at ease. No, smoking weed is not going to kill you.
The medical community agrees that people are not going to overdose on cannabis or THC. In fact, there are also studies that show there is little to no association between smoking cannabis and lung cancer.
However, smoking weed does impact spatial awareness and reaction times, so it should always be used responsibly and under safe circumstances. You should not operate a motor vehicle or other heavy machinery while use cannabis.
Therapeutic Effects of Weed
Feeling giggly or getting hungry aren’t the only ways smoking weed can affect you. The use of cannabis also has medicinal effects that can help improve the lives of those suffering from a variety of ailments. This can include those with mental health disorders, those managing chronic pain, neurological disorders, or degenerative diseases. Cannabis is often prescribed to treat disorders like:
THC, CBD, and other cannabinoids have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties that can help to treat or manage the symptoms of a variety of disorders, including:
- Crohn’s disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Chronic inflammation
Using cannabis has long shown to relieve pain, so those dealing with a painful disorder may find relief when using medicinal THC. Common examples are:
The neuroprotective properties, as well as its interactions with the limbic system, make it suitable for treating the symptoms of several neurological disorders.
- Multiple sclerosis
The ECS’s role in mood regulation makes cannabis a prime candidate for treating certain mental health issues. Some of them include:
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
For a long time, many rumors were spread about weed and its effects on the brain, but unfortunately very little research was being done to understand the truth. Now that researchers have easier access to cannabis, we are beginning to understand cannabis and its effects more and more. It’s short-term effects, like euphoria and pain relief, are well documented, but the longer-term effects are still being studied. While cannabis may not actually kill the cells in the brain, there is research that suggests that it can have some negative impacts on the development of the brain when used by adolescents. Still, we are also learning about the multitude of therapeutic effects using cannabis can have for those suffering from a variety of conditions. Remember, that everyone is going to experience weed differently. If you’re unsure which product is right for you, our educated representatives are happy to help. Reach out through our contact page and we’ll help point you in the right direction, or just drop us a line in the comment section below this article.