You've probably heard someone say something like, "every puff off marijuana cigarette kills brain cells" at least a few times. But is there actually any validity to this claim? Not likely, say brain experts.
The 'cannabis kills brain cells' claim is one of those long held beliefs that really doesn't have much basis in scientific evidence. What the research does show is that, in many cases, cannabis is actually a safe and effective treatment for many mental health conditions, explained California neurologist Dr. Ajeet Sodhi.
"In the short term, consumption of cannabis can actually have clear medical benefits in terms of depression, anxiety, pain, PTSD and nausea associated with chemotherapy," Sodhi told The GrowthOp.
And while the research is still developing, some studies suggest the non-intoxicating cannabis compound CBD can even protect the brain in some instances.
"New studies are showing that the CBD compounds also have neuroprotective effects, and have been shown to be beneficial for several neurologic disorders such as epilepsy and multiple sclerosis," Dr. Sodhi said.
That's not to say that cannabis poses no potential risks to brain heath, however. Long-term cannabis use does seem to be related to certain cognitive issues.
"[Long-term cannabis use is] suspected to cause memory problems, lack of motivation, tolerance, contribute to worsen paranoia, and certain psych disorders such as schizophrenia," said Sodhi.
These possible risks seem to be even higher for children and teens, whose brains are still developing, explained founder and medical director of the Center for Network Therapy Dr. Indra Cidambi. Some studies have shown significant reductions in IQ scores of young cannabis consumers, Cidambi said.
"More disturbing is the finding that these lost mental abilities did not return fully in those who quit marijuana use, even as adults," said Dr. Cidambi. "Those who started using marijuana as adults, however, did not show notable IQ declines."
But none of these problems are a result of dead brain cells.
So where does this assumption that smoking weed kills brain cells come from then? Dr. Sodhi assumes it has to do with peoples' perception of what it means to get high.
"Getting high is not synonymous with killing brain cells. The high is an altered state produced by the THC, a mild hallucinogen," he explains. "Neither THC or cannabis 'kills' brain cells in the traditional sense, so there's really no need to quantify damage to the brain."
So while we can't say smoking up is an entirely risk-free way to unwind on a Friday night, most healthy adults really don't need to worry about a little weed killing off their brain cells.