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Periodically, you'll hear someone claim that pot kills brain cells. Besides the fact that that's a vague, un-scientific claim, it's dumb. Here's why. The only research scientist who ever claimed that pot damages brain structures was a guy named Dr. Gabriel Nahas, who used to work for the National Institutes of Health in the 70's. He did a study on rhesus monkeys with marijuana, and his results seemed to indicate that pot caused brain damage, so the drug warriors like to include that little tidbit in their speeches, pamphlets, and so forth.

The problem is that it isn't true. Dr. Nahas' research was astoundingly bad. After he published his study, dozens of scientists came forward to question his methods. He made pretty much every mistake someone can make - if this were a science project, he would have flunked. A few examples:

* the size of the research group was small - only 4 monkeys.
* there was no control group.
* the amount of pot smoke the monkeys ingested was several thousand times higher than anything a human could smoke - these poor monkeys basically spent 16 hours a day in a room full of pot smoke.
* Nahas misidentified normal monkey brain structures as "damaged."
* in his bibliography, he cited 31 sources. Of those 31, 4 were legitimate.
The rest were either quoted out of context in a misleading way, misquoted, or plain-old made up.
* He lied about his results. The "brain damage" that he observed in the monkeys brains disappeared as soon as the monkeys stopped receiving marijuana, and he chose to not mention it in his report.

So basically, this was like the world-class worst scientific study ever. It was so bad, he got shit-canned by the NIH, and he made a public speech disavowing the research, and admitting he messed it up.

Why am I going on at such length? My point is, people still say that pot causes brain damage. The drug warriors are intellectually dishonest - they quote people like Gabriel Nahas in pamphlets, because they know most people aren't going to bother to look it up and find out whether Nahas was a complete moron or not (which he was). Doing something like that is, in my eyes, just as bad as lying, so when the Drug Czar makes a claim on TV or in a newspaper that just isn't true, to me, it's just as bad as Clinton saying "I did not have sexual relations with that woman."

If they came out and told the honest truth about marijuana, it would be legalized. They know this. They feel justified in lying because it's the only way to keep pot illegal. But if you like government sources, heres one for you:

In the late eighties, NORML (the pro-pot people) brought a lawsuit against the DEA, trying to get pot re-classified from a schedule I drug (along with cocaine and angel dust) to a class III drug (things like codeine). The DEA assigned a law judge named Francis Young to hear the case. It went on for two years. During the case, the judge heard thousands of hours of testimony from scientists, lawyers, doctors, policemen, and so forth, and he amassed something like 15 volumes of evidence.

Let me be clear - Francis Young was an employee of the DEA, so he wasn't exactly unbiased. After two years of hearing the best the pro-pot and anti-pot forces could muster, his recommendation was that pot be immediately decriminalized. How about some quotes? He called marijuana "the safest therapeutic drug known to man." Was he wrong? He also referred to marijuana as "safer than water." It sounds weird, but it's true. It's theoretically impossible to overdose on marijuana, and no one has ever died from it. Compare that to Aspirin, which kills a few dozen people every year, or to any other commonly used drug or medication. In fact, compare it to water - believe it or not, it's actually possible to die from drinking too much water, and every year, a few people die from it. Which is, of course, a few more than pot.

So how come pot wasn't decriminalized? Well, after Young presented his findings to the DEA, the DEA's response was: "um, we're not in charge of scheduling drugs, that's Health and Human Services' job." They passed the buck. Is this surprising? Not really. About every 20 years or so, the government appoints a task force to decide what to do about the "marijuana problem". Every time, they recommend decriminalization, and every time they are ignored. The first time I can find of this happening was with the British government in 1804. The most recent time was during the Reagan administration. He appointed a "Gold-ribbon task force" of lawyers, doctors, and cops, who also recommended that marijuana be decriminalized, and were also ignored.

Smoking pot DOES kill brain cells, because smoke contains carbon monoxide (CO). CO is a toxic gas naturally found in trace amounts in air. Incomplete burning, such as smoldering, results in CO, and it interferes with oxygen supply throughout the body. The brain is just more sensitive to oxygen deprivation than other organs. Brain-damage-wise, you're better off smoking a couple of reefers a day than the daily pack of cigarettes many smokers "enjoy". It's more accurate to say simply, "smoking kills brain cells".

The caveat: Your brain cells are dying all the time, and there's nothing particularly sinister about the effect of moderate smoking (tobacco, pot, etc.) on the natural attrition rate. If you're really into killing brain cells, alcohol is where it's at. In a neurobiology class discussion some years ago, the professor showed some slides of brains taken from lifelong alcoholics. Compared to a healthy brain, they were smaller, smoother, and visibly misshapen. Alcohol had literally eaten away much of the brain mass, more than a third in some cases.

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