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Myths Of Things That Kill Brain Cells: Alcohol, Cell Phones, Marijuana, et al.

There are a lot of myths around the internet about things that kill brain cells. Many popular substances like alcohol and marijuana as well as things like cell phone radiation are associated with killing brain cells. The problem is that when individuals hear a statement like “alcohol kills brain cells” they tend to automatically assume that it must be true without doing any research. The reason many people think these statements are true is because they typically involve substances that are deemed unhealthy.

In this new age where information is rapidly cycling around the internet, people read something, assume it’s true, and tell their friends about it. Really the only way to prove whether or not something kills brain cells is to study it directly and determine whether exposure to a certain substance causes a drop in neuron count.

Myths Of Things That Kill Brain Cells

Below is an extensive list of things that people have claimed kill neurons or brain cells.  There are many myths floating around the internet that are perpetuated with constant support from anti-drug campaigns, and hidden agendas.  Below are substances that you may have been lead to believe kill brain cells in humans – this is a total myth.  Although many of the drugs listed may not be healthy, they are not likely to cause any brain damage via cell death.

Alcohol abuse – Although alcohol does have the potential to kill brain cells in infants and developing brains, drinking as an adult is not going to kill of neurons. I was on the fence about including this on the list of things that kill brain cells. Alcohol does disrupt overall brain functioning and damages dendrites in the brain’s cerebellum, but it doesn’t kill neurons.

Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12270700

If you drink beer, wine, hard liquor, etc. on a consistent basis, you still can develop functioning problems and impair your overall cognition. However, you don’t really need to worry about killing any brain cells as a result of drinking.

Keep in mind that the popular myth: “alcohol kills brain cells” – is completely false. If you are an adult and are of legal drinking age, you likely aren’t killing off your neurons. There have been studies conducted comparing the number of neurons of alcoholics vs. non alcoholics; there were no significant differences between the two groups.

Source: http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa63/aa63.htm

If you ramp up alcohol drinking past moderation, you are going to suffer and your brain will become impaired. If you constantly flood your brain with alcohol (ethanol), there is a chance that excessive drinking could prevent cells from getting adequate oxygen, which would result in death.

Brain Scans (Neuro-imaging) – Some people think that the radiation from neuro-imaging technology can kill brain cells. Although many individuals agree that MRI’s (Magnetic Resonance Imagery) are fairly safe, there are some who believe that those along with CAT (Computed Tomography) scans and PET (Positron Emission Technology) scans can cause neuronal death. There is no evidence to back up these claims. If these were doing any significant damage or causing major harm to the brain they would be outlawed.

Bumping your head (lightly) – Light bumps, taps, hits, or nicks on the head isn’t likely going to kill your neurons. You may experience subtle pain when you initially hit your head or bump it on something, but if it’s fairly light, you should be fine. An extreme bump or smashing your head has potential to cause a concussion – which can kill brain cells. Additionally repeated bumping of your head – especially in the same area may cause a contusion and kill cells. The force of impact needs to be extreme for any brain cells to die. Your head is meant to withstand bumps and subtle nicks.

Cell Phones – There are still a lot of people who think talking on a cell phone can kill brain cells via radiation. The truth is that the radiation in cellular phones is very minimal and is extremely unlikely to do any harm to your brain. Perhaps an even more extreme form of this myth is that the radiation from cell phones can cause brain cancer or tumors – once again another myth.

Source: http://arxiv.org/pdf/1211.5203v1.pdf

Computers – Whenever technology involves electricity, some people seem to become paranoid about radiation. Like cell phones, there is a myth that computer screen radiation can you’re your brain cells. Once again, with current technology the radiation is minuscule and is certainly not going to kill your brain cells. There are others that think simply being on the computer or using the computer could harm their brain in some way; this is just another popular myth.

Diet soda – Another myth surrounding soda drinkers is that diet soda may kill their brain cells. Some people go as far as to say that regular Coca Cola could cause damage to the brain. If the question is: “Will diet coke kill my brain cells?” – the answer is an astounding “No!” Soda itself is not going to cause any kind of neuron death.

DMT (Dimethyltryptamine) – DMT is a psychedelic drug that can have powerful effects on the user. Most psychedelic drugs are not typically abused, but even then, there is no evidence of brain cells being killed as a result of DMT usage. I would think that if you abused DMT significantly, there could be some resulting brain damage, but there is no evidence backing up the hypothesis.

EMF Radiation (Electromagnetic Field Radiation) – People have become increasingly concerned with the health hazards of living near high levels of electromagnetic field radiation. This can come from things like cell phone towers, power plants, or even power lines. There is no evidence to prove that EMF is able to kill neurons or brain cells. However, there is some evidence pointing to the fact that it may increase your risk for neurodegenerative disorders and leukemia.

Garlic – There is a huge myth that garlic kills brain cells. Although it is well known to help kill vampires, garlic is not a neurotoxin. There was a study out that demonstrated it helped to eradicate certain kinds of brain cancer cells, but it’s not going to have a detrimental effect on your brain.

Holding your breath – It is true that when your brain cells don’t get adequate oxygen, they will die. However, simply holding your breath for a short period of time isn’t likely going to kill off any neurons. If your breath is held for an extended period of time, then you could cause your brain some harm.

Junk food – Not sure where this myth originated, but it was probably created by some health-conscious crowd as a way to scare people away from eating unhealthy. The truth is that eating garbage food will probably affect your physical health, but it’s not going to kill your brain cells. If junk food killed brain cells, half the world would be brain-dead.

LSD (Lysergic Acid Diethylamide) – LSD is a drug that causes users to go on a “trip” or period of time involving an altered state of consciousness. It is a hallucinogenic drug which is more commonly known as “acid.” Although many people think that it can kill brain cells, there is no scientific evidence in support of this false claim.

Magic Mushrooms (Psilocybin) – The usage of magic mushrooms is unlikely to cause any harm to your brain cells. There is increasing research demonstrating the fact that psilocybin may actually have therapeutic effects on the user. Don’t buy into the myth that going on a mushroom trip is going to kill brain cells. All it will do is alter your state of consciousness.

Marijuana (Cannabis) – Another myth among anti-drug campaigns is that marijuana kills brain cells; this is not at all true. Smoking weed or cannabis will not cause neurons to die. Despite the fact that marijuana may impair the brain while the user is high, it doesn’t do any cellular damage or really harm the brain. Based on most literature, it is one of the safest illicit substances for your brain. Really the only major thing that heavy marijuana use can do is increase your risk for developing schizophrenia.

Mescaline (Peyote) – A less common psychedelic drug commonly known as peyote is not likely to kill any brain cells. There is currently no significant evidence to back up the claim that peyote can kill brain cells or do any kind of brain damage. With abuse anything is possible, but there just isn’t enough information to make any valid claims.

Microwaves – Microwave radiation has been a concern among many individuals that use microwave ovens to cook their food. Some studies have made links between long term exposure and cancer. However, using a microwave oven to cook your food is not going to kill your brain cells so no need to panic in the kitchen.

Opiates – In moderation or at prescribed dosages, opiates are not going to do any harm to your neurons. Even at relatively large doses they won’t really have any detrimental effect upon the brain. The only real detrimental effect that they may have is if you take too much and somehow your breathing became impaired – thus killing cells via suffocation (i.e. lack of oxygen). Things like heroin, percocet, vicodin, oxy, and other painkillers aren’t going to kill brain cells.

Swimming – Although oxygen loss can kill brain cells, the act of swimming and holding your breath under water for short spurts of time is not going to kill brain cells. Unless you are holding your breath for excessive periods of time, your brain shouldn’t incur any damage from being a swimmer.

Video games – Are people who play video games going to fry their brains or have less brain cells than someone who doesn’t? No. Despite the fact that some people enjoy playing video games for excessive periods of time, it doesn’t mean that they are losing brain cells because of it. In some cases, video games can actually boost brain functioning and help the person playing the game relax after a stressful day.

Watching TV – A lot of people tend to think that watching TV kills brain cells – this is one of the biggest myths of all. In some cases, watching TV can actually help your brain relax and unwind from a stressful day. There is absolutely zero evidence that watching TV is actually going to harm your neurons. There was one study that went as far as to single out the show Spongebob – claiming that if you watch this show for 9 minutes per day you’ll have a worse short term memory than those who don’t. Although these findings were true, slightly worsened short term memory does not equate to Spongebob kills brain cells. Certain individuals and websites attempt to rile individuals up by publishing misinformation; don’t buy into the misleading hype.

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{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Oli November 6, 2015, 2:04 pm

    Just passing by, about cannabis: while it is perfectly safe for humans, studies since 2012 have highlighted it had permanent negative effects if taken during teenage years, preventing the brain from maturing as much as a non-cannabis-consumer’s brain. Permanent loss of IQ isn’t actual destruction, but potentially, it’s as if it were the same. Cheers to all.

    • Mellow Yellow October 1, 2016, 4:41 pm

      Permanent loss of IQ? You are talking nonsense just like the tests you are referring to.

  • Jon May 1, 2015, 12:19 am

    Okay, let me get this straight. You are saying these things do not damage your neurons, BUT they can in fact cause brain damage, by disrupting your dendrites? You claim that the drugs you mentioned do not kill brain cells, yet there has not been sufficient research to prove that is the case. Of course, on the other hand there hasn’t been enough research to prove that it does kill brain cells.

    From what I have observed in individuals whom have taken part in these drugs, has been disrupted memory, poor problem solving skills, lack of motivation, grandiose delusions. In conclusion, from my observations, I have determined that those drugs cannot be okay for the brain, because of the decreased cognitive function of the individuals I have seen. although I do realize there are many variables I am unaware of which could influence how these people have acted and I do not have any scientific research to back up what I think.

    What I do know is that I have countless friends and those whom participated in those drugs I noticed had decreased cognitive abilities as well in most cases, depression. My point is don’t take this article as is. Take care if you do use drugs and be as safe as knowingly as possible about it and know that prolonged use of any substance or action that rewards the pleasure system in the brain will lead to addiction/dependence.

    • Eldon May 30, 2015, 4:50 pm

      This is an important post…

      I fear that those reading the article will equate the number of neurons a person has with working intelligence, but that is not the case. If you came to this page looking to justify a habit, stop and think about what’s important to you rather than take the article as a go-ahead to be recklessly indulgent in these things.

    • StarD5678980 July 21, 2015, 10:00 pm

      I would think that the author is only saying that these habits and drugs don’t actually decrease brain cells but it affects the other parts of the brain (e.g. you won’t actually get dumber per se, but something else happens).

      But anyway, for the point about alcohol, the author has seem to misread both sources. I could only get the abstract for the first source (because you have to play $40 for the full publication), but all they said is that: “ethanol’s interaction with GABA(A) and NMDA receptors is not sufficient to explain ethanol’s effects on neuronal survival.” What they mean is that the direct relationship between ethanol and GABA and NMDA receptors is not a clear answer. The study then comes up with the hypothesis that chronic ethanol may promote neuronal loss by affecting Calcium influx along with GABA and glutamate reception. And this is all regarding, it seems, fetuses. It does not say anything about adults. And I do not have the conclusion because, again, the article costs $40.

      The second link, unless I am the one misreading, does NOT compare alcoholics with non alcoholics, it compares men alcoholics with women alcoholics. There is also a demonstration of the high tech tools that they use for assessment. The source is simply saying that there is not one single variable for any brain deficits due to alcoholism. And the degrees of any impairment vary per variable (sex, age, etc).

    • Ross Edelman January 22, 2016, 11:54 pm

      Brain cells don’t have to die for their to be any harm. Sometimes just changes in brain chemical balance can have those effects too. Something drugs of all kinds including caffeine and even OTC antihistimines are well known to do.

  • Jahed November 21, 2014, 2:52 am

    Great read, cleared a lot of doubt over many rumors we hear today especially about video games, marijuana and TV. This research couldn’t have benefited me any more, since I was about to reduce my daily activities. Thanks for this extremely useful article!

  • Alexa April 23, 2014, 4:43 pm

    I found this article very helpful and informative, thank you! (*thumbs up**claps*) And I love your blog, nice to know there are others I can relate to that are doing so well.
    Looked for your fb to ‘like’ it, but couldn’t find it. What’s your name on there?

    Thanks again,

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