The use of graphene-based materials to engineer sophisticated biosensing interfaces that can adapt to the central nervous system requires a detailed understanding of how such materials behave in a biological context. Graphene's peculiar properties can cause various cellular changes, but the underlying mechanisms remain unclear. Here, we show that single-layer graphene increases neuronal firing by altering membrane-associated functions in cultured cells. Graphene tunes the distribution of extracellular ions at the interface with neurons, a key regulator of neuronal excitability. The resulting biophysical changes in the membrane include stronger potassium ion currents, with a shift in the fraction of neuronal firing phenotypes from adapting to tonically firing. By using experimental and theoretical approaches, we hypothesize that the graphene-ion interactions that are maximized when single-layer graphene is deposited on electrically insulating substrates are crucial to these effects.