The Myth of Illegal Drugs Frying Your Brain and Permafried People

In response to Jason’s post here about drug use frying your brain, I have written this response. In general, the notion that the use of illegal drugs will fry your brain or make you permafried even after you quit is nonsense. In general, once you quit you go back to the intelligence and sanity level you were at before you started. Few people get permanently lowered intelligence or permanent mental illness from former drug use.

Most illegal drugs do not cause any permanent damage to your brain that would affect you permanently after you quit.

In all of my years using drugs, I have met 10,000’s of drug users and I never met one person who had used so much drugs that they were “fried” in the sense that they were permanently stupid or crazy after they quit using.

Cocaine

There may be some consequences far down the road – say, with Parkinson’s.

Jason’s article discusses an increased risk of Parkinson’s in former cocaine users. But it’s not really due to brain damages so much as changes in a certain receptor that make someone more vulnerable to a toxin. That’s not the same thing as having a fried brain.

I knew a heavy cocaine user who appeared to have neurological problems from the drug. But I am not sure if it persisted after he quit, if he ever did quit. But he’s the only person I’ve ever met like that, and even he wasn’t fried at all. He was still very intelligent and completely sane. However, he did appear to have some sort of brain damage. Whether it was permanent or not is not known.

LSD

I have known people who took LSD up to 700 times, and I know a number who took LSD 300 times. LSD doesn’t damage your brain anyway. It can cause some changes in the visual system due to permanent changes in serotonin receptors, but that just causes some perceptual problems, and this is mostly in people who have taken it 50+ times. It doesn’t change effect you in any way that changes the way you think or feel, in other words, it doesn’t make you stupid or nuts.

There are some very heavy former LSD users who seem to have permanent hallucinations, but those people took a lot of acid over a short period of time – like way, way too much acid. It’s not known what’s going on with them, but I suppose they are permafried in a sense.

LSD is a dangerous drug.

Cannabis

I know many people who have been smoking pot for 10, 20, or even 30 years, and there’s nothing wrong with any of them. You wouldn’t think there was anything wrong with them if you met them. They’re not damaged at all.

The pot lowering IQ discussed in Jason’s piece is only for use before you are 18. If you start using at age 18 or after, there’s no effect on IQ. People under 18 need to be very careful about pot because it can indeed lower their IQ’s a bit.

Pot doesn’t give you schizophrenia, period. The most it can do is trigger it if you are already vulnerable, but even then, most of those people would have gotten it anyway. But it can definitely bring it on sooner than it would have otherwise.

The rate of schizophrenia has been flat for 60 years, all through the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, 2000’s and 2010’s, and all sorts of drug use rates for different drugs skyrocketed at various times in that period. In other words, neither cannabis nor any other drug is going to give you schizophrenia with one exception discussed below.

MDMA

MDMA is a very dangerous drug and it can definitely cause physical damage to your brain. It permanently lowers scores on a few aspects of intelligence tests such as vocabulary, but you mostly can’t notice any changes and there do not appear to be any changes in mental stability. In general, it doesn’t make you stupid or nuts.

However, there are some people called e-tards out there who took a lot of MDMA very frequently over relatively short of periods of time, and these people appear to be permafried. Mostly they seem a bit stupid.

However, I have heard that even these effects of MDMA go away after ~7-8 years if you stay away from the drug.

 

Speed is another matter but even that tends to clear up after you quit. There are some very heavy methamphetamine users, especially people who shot the drug, who have developed an illness that looks a lot like or possibly is paranoid schizophrenia.

There are some recorded cases out of Japan, and a friend told me about another case here in California. This is not a common outcome and even with all the heavy meth abuse that is going on nowadays, you don’t hear much about people being permafried in the sense that they become permanently mentally ill with paranoid schizophrenia.

Heavy Polydrug and Alcohol Abuse for Decades (30 years)

I have heard of one person who used huge amounts of drugs and drank very heavily over many years, starting as an adolescent. They are now off of everything, and they have a rather poor short-term memory and forget stuff a lot, but other than that, they are still extremely intelligent.

They are also a bit suspicious and paranoid, but not at the level of a paranoid psychosis. I suppose this man is permafried in a sense, but if you met him, you would not appear stupid or crazy.

Conclusion

Bottom line is a lot of that stuff can mess you up pretty bad while you are on it so you seem stupid, crazy, or even brain damaged. But most if not all of that tends to clear up when you quit. Permafried people who are permanently stupid or nuts from heavy drug use must be awfully rare because I haven’t met one in my entire life. The fried brains and permafried nonsense is mostly mythology.

Alcohol/Drugs and Brain Damage

Repost from the old site.
For those who are worried, I would add a few pointers from my own life. I’ve been using drugs and drinking, one or the other or both, recreationally, for almost 40 years, and my health is superb. Of course, as with all things, moderation is the key.
There were some wild binges of drinking and/or drug use where I thought, “Wow, this time I have definitely damaged my brain for sure!”
At that time, I just stopped using whatever it was that had me worried and waited for a bit, and it seemed that at some point, all my brains came back, and then some. In some cases, I a number of cases, I had to wait for 3-10 days (average ~1 week), but in one case, it took a month to get back to where I was.
After almost 40 years, you would think that I would be getting more and more fried by the year, but it’s just not so. To be quite honest, in many ways, it seems like I am smarter than I have ever been.
Furthermore, no one who meets me or knows me ever thinks I am stupid in any way whatsoever. It is quite the opposite. Not trying to brag here but people regularly say things like, “You’re are one of the smartest people I know.” I don’t think they would say that if I was fried.
When you exercise or play sports, they say listen to your body. With drinking and drugs, that too, but also listen to your brain. If things start seeming foggy, slow down for a bit and see if things clear up. Most if not all cases of permanent damage from this stuff have occurred from people who did not heed the warnings and careened right on ahead.
To summarize my writings on the subject:
Methamphetamine and Ecstasy are terrible for the brain, Ecstasy so bad you should not take it even one time. PCP is quite bad for your brain and probably ketamine is too. You can play around with any of those drugs a dozen or so times in a lifetime (and possibly more), and you won’t suffer any permanent damage. Any more than that, and things get a lot dicier.
Heroin is easy on the brain but nasty in any other way. Opium, and all opiates, are also harmless to the brain but can be addicting. Use must be judicious and occasional, if at all. In particular, don’t mix with other downers. Long term alcoholic drinking permanently damages the brain.
With less heavy drinking, the permanence of damage is much less clear. At low levels, drinking causes no damage whatsoever. The widespread notion, proffered even by many doctors, that each drink “kills brain cells” is utter nonsense.
Cannabis, marijuana or hashish is one drug that can be used even very heavily by adults with minimal permanent effects on the brain. Occasional use by adults seems to be completely harmless to your brain. The question of brain damage by very heavy cannabis use has not yet been resolved, but even if it occurs, most of it seems  to clear up on cessation.
Daily use of small amounts by adults can occur for years with apparently minimal damage. Any damage that occurs has not yet been proven, but if it exists, it seems to be quite subtle, and I am uncertain how significant it is.
Unfortunately, for minors, the question of little to no damage is much less firm, such that I recommend that anyone wait at least until they are 18 to begin using cannabis.
Of all of the drugs of abuse, as far as heavy use goes, cannabis is by far the easiest of them all on your brain.

Lies About the Drug Burnouts

Repost from the old site.

Dope fries your brain, and all ex-dopers are “permafried,” or damaged by drugs. This condition is both immediately obvious and permanent.

This is one of the staples of the anti-drug line, and it appears that the vast majority of Americans have bought into it, including most drug users and former users.

I think it’s utter nonsense, so I’m going to take it on head-on here in this post.

Simply put, I don’t really think that “drug burnouts” exist anymore than “alcohol burnouts” do. The notion comes from the idea that illegal drug use damages the brain. Hence, after years of use of this, that, or various substances, the brain is permanently damaged, and the person is odd, strange, weird, bizarre, permanently spacey, “permafried,” crazy, nuts or mentally ill in some way or another.

The theory is very appealing in that unfortunately, it is starting to look like most of these drugs, at least in heavy use, are capable of damaging the brain. The jury is still somewhat out on cannabis, but even that does not look really encouraging for heavy long-term users.

The theory is typically used to abuse users of hallucinogens and psychedelics, probably because these are the most feared drugs of them all. There is a serious problem with the “fried brains acidheads” line: the hallucinogens are one of the very few drugs that look pretty clean as far as brain damage goes.

When you come out and say that LSD does not cause general damage to the brain, as I am doing now, people tend to get really upset. After all, if anything damages your brain, it must be LSD! After all, if acid, the ultimate evil drug, doesn’t mess with your brain, then surely nothing does.

The truth is much more strange. It’s now clear that the most popular drugs of all, like cocaine and methamphetamine. can damage the brain, often pretty quickly.

Cocaine begins to cause demonstrable brain damage after as few as 12 uses (constriction of the arteries of the brain). After a few grams a month for a few years, clear brain damage shows up on the P300 test (a general slowing of the EEG). There is now evidence for serious changes in white and gray matter with heavy cocaine use.

Meth is much harder to pin down, but heavy current users often appear scattered and damaged. After 1.5 grams a week for 1-2 years, clear signs of damage start showing up. I believe that damage is also starting to show up on white and gray matter tests.

I can’t emphasize strongly enough what bad news these white and gray matter tests are – they indicate destruction of the neurons themselves and the connections between them.

The damage from meth seems to be to dopamine neurons and their connections and is observable with brain diagnostic imaging tools. Whether or not damage occurs at lower doses over shorter periods of time is not known, but meth is starting to look like nasty stuff for your brain.

I still say you can take meth at least a dozen times or so (and possibly much more!) without any permanent damage. At some point though, you are going to start damaging your brain, and we don’t really know what that point is. Want to try to find out when the damage begins? Don’t bother!

Ecstasy or MDMA, formerly up in the air as far as brain damage goes, is looking worse all the time. The best we can say now is that one dose probably does not cause damage. More than one dose almost surely does, and the damage is cumulative. The drug damages serotonin neurons in certain parts of the brain by killing the connections (axons) between the neurons. The neurons themselves are not killed.

It is a common falsehood about drug abuse and the brain that “drugs kill brain cells.” In truth, actual neuronal death is hard to pin down for a lot of these drugs. Instead of killing brain cells outright, drugs often just damage them so they don’t work quite so well. With MDMA, the serotonin axons grow back, but they do not grow back correctly.

I never did MDMA – it was after my time.

Even heavy cannabis use is looking suspect.

Drinking more than two drinks a day over a period of time causes shrinkage of the brain. The shrinkage increases as the drinks per day does up. Periodic heavy drinking depresses brain cells for up to two years, and chronic heavy drinking actually kills neurons.

Now on to the psychedelics. The hard facts are that we do not have good evidence that LSD, peyote, psilocybin and similar drugs damage the brain in any way that would that reduce your intellect, make you odd, strange, weird, bizarre or crazy, or effect your ability to think and feel rationally.

It is true that LSD, psilocybin and MDMA are capable of causing HPPD. That is hallucinogen persisting perception disorder. The result is visual aberrations persisting into the period when one is not using the drug. LSD seems to be the worst offender, but some cases are caused by psilocybin. Until a cure or prevention is found, HPPD is an excellent reason to avoid using psychedelics, LSD in particular.

There is a board on the Net for HPPD sufferers, and if you go there and tell them that you are still using acid, they are going to give you a piece of their mind. They aren’t anti-drug ignoramuses or holier than thou moralistic types. They’ve just been there and done that and don’t want to see you in the same boat as they are.

No one has any idea what is causing HPPD, but a Dr. Abraham in Massachusetts has the notion that it is related to damage to the visual system. All LSD users show damage to the visual system. It’s not apparent to most of them, but it shows up on tests. It has to do with how fast you can adjust to from a totally light environment to a totally dark environment. LSD users do poorly on that.

It’s interesting to note that although all of the tests for LSD and brain damage in animals were negative with the exception of very high doses that would be about the equivalent of 1,000 50 mcg. hits at once, LSD was shown to be hypotoxic to the optic nerve in the bird.

These negative findings for brain damage and LSD go back to the 1950’s. We now have over 50 years of negative tests for LSD and brain damage in animals as well as humans.

LSD does some pretty bizarre things to animals. If you give it to a cat and put the cat in an enclosed area with a rat, the cat will cower in terror of the rat, which it normally would try to kill. Strange.

All tests of intellectual function damage for LSD users have come up negative. Some suggested temporary damage on visual function tests (the Trail-Making B Test), but as the HPPD data above suggests, LSD may indeed damage the visual system. Even this finding cleared up one year post-drug

Damage to the visual system would logically cause HPPD. Would it make a person weird, strange, odd, bizarre, insane and stupid? Why would it? The visual system effects vision. It doesn’t effect psychological stability or the ability to think or feel in a normal way.

That said, there is anecdotal evidence that very heavy LSD is somehow bad for your brain. It seems to go away if you quit, but it’s there nevertheless. There are reports on the net of users who used LSD very heavily – several hits, several times a week, for a year or so. Afterward, they had symptoms of brain damage.

They could no longer do the intellectual work that they could formerly do, and they had a hard time reading. After a year or so off the drug, their intellect seemed to return. The users were not mentally ill at any time.

The notion of mental illness from the use of LSD is very controversial. It seems almost impossible to understand how a drug that has no permanent brain effects outside the visual system could make a person weird, strange, odd, bizarre, crazy, nuts, insane, or mentally disturbed in any way at all. Surely, if it did so, the etiology could not be from actual brain damage but must be in purely psychological terms: psychogenic.

Nevertheless, we continue to get reports of mental illness after LSD use.

The most frightening to me are reports of mental illness after very heavy use. We have reports of individuals who used LSD very heavily (several times a week at high dose) for a year or two. After that, they became mentally ill and had to be admitted to a hospital. They got better and were released and seemed OK on the outside. But then they got into heavy LSD use again and had to be readmitted.

There are other reports of folks in their 40’s and 50’s who used LSD maybe 2,000-3,000 times. They are reported to be mentally ill to some degree or another.

We don’t yet have any good theory to explain cognitive problems or mental illness in extremely heavy LSD users, but nevertheless, based on anecdotal evidence, one ought to avoid this sort of high-risk behavior.

Timothy Leary probably used LSD between 1,000-2,000 times. I have to admit he looked pretty fried the last few times I saw him on TV. He also used all sorts of other drugs.

As a good general rule though, I haven’t met one person yet who is “permafried” from any kind of drugs. My perception has been that if you quit using, after a while you become normal again. Most of the so-called permafried types are still using drugs heavily. It seems to me that no matter how damaged people seemed, if they quit and sobered up, they seemed to be quite OK once they were clean.

I’ve met some folks who seemed damaged from very heavy dope use, but in the one case I can think of, he wasn’t really strange or weird. He could be socially inappropriate, and his basic problem was he didn’t give a damn about anything. You will find this personality syndrome in a lot of very heavy users that otherwise function pretty well – they seem like they don’t care about much of anything.

He couldn’t hold down a job because he was so damaged that he couldn’t even make change. Yet I was at a party with him once and he picked up this gorgeous young blond ten years his junior and fucked her brains out that night. How nuts can you be if you can pull off something like that?

I met another fellow like that on the streets of San Francisco 15 years ago. Smart guy, Masters Degree from a good university, lived off a trust fund, traveled the world, partied his brains out, in his 40’s.

He had that “I don’t give a fuck” attitude, but I don’t consider that mental illness. Hell, I don’t consider most stuff mental illness! He wasn’t ready for corporate America, but he didn’t want to be either, and I didn’t consider him mentally ill in any way, shape or form.

But then I think the whole notion of “crazy” is horribly abused against people who aren’t even nuts at all.

I’ve known many individuals who used drugs heavily for years who are now more or less sober, although some continue to use cannabis. For the life of me, I can’t see how even one of them has been permanently damaged by their drug use. I haven’t met a permafried person yet, but I guess there’s always a first.

I keep meeting people who used cocaine very heavily for 5-10 years, or so heavily as to have to go into drug treatment, or took LSD up to 300 times or so, or have been smoking pot for 20-30 years and still are, now heavily, in their 40’s. For the life of me, I can’t see anything wrong with them now. Some of them have very good jobs and make $100,000/yr or so.

Despite a lot of theoretical support for the “permafried” notion (in that many of these drugs are now being found to actually damage your brain), I haven’t seen much of it in my life. If anyone knows any “permafried” individuals who are now clean and have been clean for a while, let me know in the comments.

Until then, I think the whole notion is ridiculous.