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5 minutes

Does Weed Kill Brain Cells? How Marijuana Can Impact Your Mind & Body

Medically Reviewed
Last Medically Reviewed on: July 9, 2022
Cannabis plant

Written by

Kevin Lang

Updated on

6 Jul, 2022

“Weed” is one of the many slang terms that refer to the dried, cured flowers from any plant in the cannabis family. This herbal substance is often ground, milled, or otherwise broken up and then either rolled into cigarettes or cigars or smoked in countless different pipes. Weed is among the most commonly abused drugs in the US, only behind more socially acceptable substances such as alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine.

The most recent danger of weed has come in the form of new legislation and laws in many cities and states around the country, allowing and regulating the use of weed just like alcohol. This has made marijuana more accessible and has pushed the possibility of addiction to record levels.

It seems like retail marijuana stores, often called “dispensaries,” are opening on every street in every town in America. Here, the users are offered a wide variety of types of weed with different effects, flavors, and purposes. Some locations even offer food products that have been combined with weed, called “edibles,” which can be dangerous for users who have not experimented with them before.

With weed being more potent and easily accessible than ever before, there is a heightened concern for its potential negative effects on brain cells.

Unfortunately, weed’s effects on the brain are still largely unknown, as studies are just now becoming easier to perform without federal interference. Still, the more people have access to it and use it regularly, the more people there are that will develop problems with the drug and let it seriously affect their minds and bodies.

How Does Marijuana Impact Your Brain and Body?

With marijuana being illegal on a federal level, there is a significant lack of research into the effects of weed on the mind and body. Nevertheless, there are some indications that certain users may experience significant effects as a result of their weed use. However, how weed impacts the user’s mind and body will greatly depend on the user and many factors of their biology and physiology.

From birth, our bodies are designed to use and produce endogenous forms of the cannabinoid compounds found in weed. This means the human body creates chemicals called endocannabinoids for a range of purposes. It also means that the human brain is designed to have cannabinoid receptors to facilitate the effective use of cannabinoids.

Marijuana is unique among many drugs in that it has its own receptors in our brain and does not have to interfere with other systems in the body. This also means that when someone uses weed, it can cause similar effects as when the brain interacts with the natural endocannabinoids in our bodies.

In some research, those who used weed were assigned a list of vocabulary words to memorize, as were a group of people who had not used weed. The results indicated that the non-users could recall more words on average than weed users. This particular study showed a strong correlation between the use of weed and brain function, including how the brain can receive, store, and retrieve information.

Additional research has shown that there may be a link between heavy and prolonged use of weed and performance on a difficult cognitive test. The test took slightly longer than the control group, who either did not smoke or smoked lightly or occasionally before quitting. Despite the low risk and potentially minimal effects, there are still significant restrictions on research that may help us more completely understand the effects of weed on the mind and body in both the long term and the short.

Does Smoking Weed Kill Brain Cells?

Despite research projects investigating possible links between smoking weed and permanent brain damage, there has not been any concrete, peer-reviewed evidence that smoking marijuana damages brain structure or function.

In fact, many indications show quite the opposite and potentially highlight the neuroprotective function of some of the cannabinoids. However, this is just one component of weed. Overall, the side effects of weed can be more harmful than helpful to the individual. This isn’t to say that smoking weed is without danger, however.

Like with many substances, there is a temporary effect on brain cells; some die during consumption, but it is neither a consequential nor a permanent die-off. Nearly all of the harmful effects of weed come from the actual act of smoking.

Smoking results in the combustion of the desired substance to consume the active compounds and creates several other potentially toxic compounds such as carbon monoxide, tar, and more. Inhaling these compounds, as well as incredibly hot smoke, displaces oxygen in the blood and brain as well as kills off brain cells.

Does Eating Weed Kill Brain Cells?

Edibles are food or drink infused with weed, available in various forms like candy, chocolate, tea, and more. Edibles and smoking deliver THC, the psychoactive compound in weed, differently. Smoking delivers it quickly, leading to an immediate but short-lived high. Edibles take longer to kick in (up to 2 hours) but can last longer and be more intense due to liver processing.

Studies haven’t conclusively shown that cannabis, in any form, directly kills brain cells. However, heavy and prolonged use can affect brain development in adolescents, whose brains are still maturing.

Does Alcohol Kill More Brain Cells Than Weed?

Similar to marijuana, alcohol does not lead to brain cell death in adults. However, both substances can impact the brain in distinct ways.


Chronic heavy drinking: Can shrink the brain, particularly the hippocampus, which plays a vital role in memory and learning.

Cognitive impairment: Excessive alcohol consumption can temporarily disrupt memory, coordination, and judgment.


Developing brains: THC, the psychoactive compound in weed, can affect brain development in adolescents whose brains are still maturing. This can lead to temporary cognitive issues like memory problems and attention difficulties.

Anxiety and psychosis: Heavy and prolonged weed use can increase the risk of anxiety and, in rare cases, temporary psychosis.

How To Overcome Addiction and Kick It To The Curb

Even though marijuana might not permanently kill your brain cells, smoking weed can still have adverse effects on the life and health of the user. Suppose you believe you or someone you know may have a substance issue with weed. In that case, the first thing that should be done is to contact recovery professionals to begin planning the detox, withdrawal, and recovery process.

Getting help and detoxing from weed before it impacts your brain cells can make the withdrawal process much easier and more comfortable.

Working with experienced treatment professionals can ensure there are no adverse effects during the withdrawal process. It can help mitigate any physical discomfort experienced during the acute and post-acute withdrawal stages. The treatment counselors will also help the user identify their triggers. This can equip them to recognize a situation or event that may push them to relapse and avoid the situation entirely.


Infinite Recovery has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations for our references. We avoid using tertiary references as our sources. You can learn more about how we source our references by reading our editorial guidelines and medical review policy.

  1. Mandal A. What are Cannabinoids? Published February 26, 2019. Accessed July 9, 2022.
  2. Schoeler T, Bhattacharyya S. The effect of cannabis use on memory function: an update. Subst Abuse Rehabil. 2013;4:11-27. doi:10.2147/SAR.S25869
  3. Lovell ME, Akhurst J, Padgett C, Garry MI, Matthews A. Cognitive outcomes associated with long-term, regular, recreational cannabis use in adults: A meta-analysis. Exp Clin Psychopharmacol. 2020;28(4):471-494. doi:10.1037/pha0000326

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