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Does Marijuana Kill Brain Cells?

Using marijuana can cause damage to brain cells that results in a number of concurrent symptoms throughout the body. Some effects of heavy marijuana use on the brain may not be reversible among teens.

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How Does Marijuana Affect the Brain?


As recreational marijuana use becomes legalized throughout the US, many people now wonder how marijuana affects the brain and whether or not it kills brain cells. Just as years of heavy alcohol, meth, and heroin use can cause some irreversible brain damage, prolonged marijuana abuse can affect the ability of brain cells to convey messages (also known as brain activity). Using marijuana can cause damage to brain cells that results in a number of concurrent symptoms throughout the body.

Like other drugs, components of marijuana bind with specific receptors in the brain. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is marijuana’s primary psychoactive ingredient, and it attaches to the brain’s cannabinoid receptors (officially known as cannabinoid receptor type 1 or CB1). These receptors connect to nerves in the brain function which govern memory, appetite, pain regulation, and mood.

When a person smokes marijuana, they may notice they struggle with staying focused or recalling important details. This can worsen with prolonged marijuana use, resulting in problems like poor memory and concentration.  Motor skills can also be affected by the drug. If someone decides to drive while high, they can endanger their lives and the lives of others.

At this time, scientists are not fully aware of the long-term effects of marijuana use and the brain. They have, however, found a correlation between children and adolescence who use marijuana regularly who grow up to have lower IQs due to their marijuana use. Therefore, exposure to THC as a child can cause changes in cognition and memory later on in life. Less research has been done or has found much on adults who begin using marijuana after the adolescent stage.

Effect of Marijuana Use on IQ

The amount of brain cells killed off by marijuana would also depend on the amount a person has smoked and their age of use. The effects of marijuana on the brain mostly affect individuals under 25 as their brains are still developing.  A study of marijuana’s effect on IQ revealed individuals who began using marijuana at a young age lost 6 to 8 points from their IQ by middle age. Moreover, those who smoked marijuana throughout their adolescence, then stopped, did not regain their IQ points. Conversely, individuals who began using marijuana in their adulthood did not endure any IQ loss.

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Synthetic Marijuana’s Effect On The Brain

Synthetic marijuana, a man-made hallucinogenic substance typically sprayed onto plant material, is not safe for human consumption but has become popular in recent years. Also known as “fake weed,” it produces mind-altering affects and can cause the individual to act in an odd manner. Synthetic marijuana is illegal and may have toxic ingredients that can cause increased heart rate, unexplained bleeding, and vomiting.

Similar to marijuana, synthetic marijuana affects the brain by attaching itself to the cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1) found in both the central and peripheral nervous systems. Synthetic weed binds more strongly to CB1 receptors than THC, making it at least 100 times more potent in the brain. Because CB1 receptors have multiple locations in the brain, side effects can be intense and harmful.

Synthetic marijuana may cause the brain and body to experience:

  • Memory loss
  • Seizures
  • Psychosis
  • Cardiac and respiratory problems
  • Stroke
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Altered perception or euphoria
  • Violent behavior
  • Kidney and brain damage

In addition to the above symptoms, synthetic marijuana can be addictive to individuals who take it. Addiction, a chronic disease, can result in drug abuse that directly damages the brain, as well as risky behaviors that can cause further damage. After prolonged use of synthetic marijuana, brain cell activity is likely to decline with a concurrent increase in negative physiological symptoms like the ones above.

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Short- and Long-Term Effects of Marijuana Use on The Brain

The immediate, short-term effects of marijuana use on the brain include:

  • Difficulty judging distances
  • Difficulty remembering
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety

Long-term effects include but are not limited to:

  • Some cognitive impairment
  • Some memory loss
  • Increased likelihood to use other drugs
  • Increasing marijuana tolerance
  • Marijuana dependence

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Marijuana can have calming effects on the individual, but when over used or combined with other substances, can be very harmful. Stopping marijuana use can be difficult, and if you or loved one struggles to stop or endangers their life, they may need detox and treatment. Treatment takes individuals away from triggers individuals who use marijuana may have like anxiety. Instead, he or she would get counseling to uncover what they need most.

Medications would reduce cravings for marijuana, and detox would eliminate toxins in the body, returning it to its healthy state. The road to sobriety can be achieved without judgement or difficulty. Contact a compassionate treatment provider today.


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