Cannabis is derived from a plant called Cannabis Sativa. It makes you feel high with the active ingredient called delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC and other substances in cannabis can drastically change the way the brain and body works. Once it enters the body, the effects of cannabis extend to the immune system, especially the nervous system. But cannabis has the main effect on dopamine. So, do you know how cannabis affects dopamine?
Cannabis use causes dopamine levels to rise. After smoking cannabis, stimulation of cannabinoid receptors increases dopaminergic activity in the mesolimbic dopamine system and is therefore associated with reward and positive reinforcement. Cannabinoids are known to increase the synthesis of GABA, noradrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin. In addition, they enhance the effects of noradrenaline, GABA, acetylcholine, and opioid peptides and alter the function of the noradrenaline, dopamine, and acetylcholine receptors.
First of All: What Is Dopamine?
Dopamine is a chemical that occurs naturally in the human body and transmits signals from the body to the brain. It plays an important role in controlling one’s emotional responses and actions. It has a very special place in the improvement of both the mental and physical health of the person. There may be a decrease in the amount of dopamine due to any problem in the brain receptors, and these decreases can lead to many mental disorders, especially depression and Parkinson’s.
In the treatment of dopamine deficiency, drugs containing dopamine are mostly prescribed. Dopamine deficiency can also be treated with some lifestyle changes such as regular exercise and consuming plenty of protein. Just like its deficiency, excessive secretion is also harmful. It may be possible to keep the level in balance with the regular use of drugs such as dopamine-suppressing antidepressants.
The functions of dopamine in our body are countless. It is a central source of power that is decisive in almost all the work of the brain, and it is the main factor behind our actions and our relationships with other people. All of our movements controlled by the brain develop under the supervision of the basal ganglia in our brain.
However, in order for the basal ganglia to function properly and efficiently, a sufficient amount of dopamine must first be secreted from neighboring neurons. If a sufficient amount of dopamine does not reach the basal ganglia, we may encounter limitations in our mobility and impaired movement coordination. Excessive secretion of dopamine can cause the body to make unnecessary movements. For example, the main reason for uncontrollable repetitive movements known as ‘tics’ among people is the excessive secretion of dopamine by neurons.
The prefrontal cortex, which is related to thinking and memory, is often associated with dopamine. Even small fluctuations in the amount of dopamine in the prefrontal cortex directly and significantly affect memory. In addition to learning processes, dopamine also has an effect on how and how information is stored. Linked to the reward center, dopamine helps us remember reward-related events more easily and store reward-related information in our memory. It is also secreted by the prefrontal cortex when we are dealing with an activity we like.
This triggers the release of dopamine from our brain when we remember every activity or information that brings us pleasure. Teachers who want to benefit from the relationship of dopamine with memory and the learning process should teach in a way that increases student motivation. The level of dopamine in students can be increased with exciting and instructive lesson information and content, rewarding method. As a result, students will be more willing to record the information they have learned in the course in their memory and they can learn the lessons better.
Dopamine, which also determines focus and attention, works by responding to the optic nerves that enable you to focus yourself on a particular subject or object. Dopamine deficiency and low dopamine concentration in the prefrontal cortex can cause you to have difficulty with attention and focus. Dopamine is also released in high amounts when we encounter situations and events that cause us excitement or sudden stress. Therefore, excessive dopamine secretion can bring stress, anxiety, and tension to the person.
Dopamine, a chemical that reveals feelings of pleasure and enjoyment, determines our mood. Why we enjoy some events and hate others can be explained by dopamine. Dopamine, called the happiness molecule, along with serotonin and norepinephrine can trigger depression.
Dopamine, which is secreted more during the day, is secreted less in the late evening. This situation causes the person to sleep at night. The reason why people with Parkinson’s are always drowsy is due to an insufficient amount of dopamine secretion by their brains. Patients with psychosis, neurosis, and schizophrenia in which dopamine is excessively secreted also tend to sleep. The reason for this is drugs such as antidepressants that they use to lower the rising dopamine.
Dopamine and Addictions
Addiction is when a person is involved in substance abuse or engages in behavior where rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to follow the behavior repeatedly despite harmful consequences. Addiction can include the use of substances such as alcohol, opiates, cocaine, nicotine, and others, or behaviors such as technology, gambling. There is also scientific evidence that addictive behaviors share essential neurobiological traits: they include brain and reward enhancement pathways and affect motivation, which includes the neurotransmitter dopamine.
On the other hand, dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for signal communication between brain nerve cells called neurons. It has a role in reward, motivation, memory, attention, pleasure, and regulation of body movements. Dopamine is the substance that regulates blood pressure and keeps us moving. This substance manages our blood pressure. In the absence of dopamine, we can be stiff. Just like in Parkinson’s disease.
Dopamine not only adjusts the blood pressure of our body but also of our lives. The substance that provides memory is dopamine. The way to learn things is through dopamine. If dopamine is low, so will our attention. Some of the doping agents increase dopamine. Thus, we are paid attention. One of the substances that regulate our sleep is dopamine. In fact, it is dopamine that provides the solution to a problem and plays a role in the realization of this analysis process in our brain.
Dopamine is actually a pleasure substance. When you enjoy something, know that dopamine is released in abundance from one area of your brain to another. Dopamine goes into action when you smoke or eat chocolate. Thanks to dopamine, the pleasure you start to feel at the first bite while having a good meal. Dopamine also affects our mood. We feel better and more pleasant. Not having it is a punishment. When we are punished, dopamine disappears. So dopamine drives the reward-punishment mechanism.
If we talk about the role of dopamine in addiction, while dopamine produced naturally in the brain of a person is at a sufficient level, when dopamine is taken from the outside, the brain reduces its own production because it thinks that dopamine will be supplied from outside. However, when the effects of substance use and harmful activities are over, the amount of dopamine in the brain drops below the level it should be. After this process, the person applies again to substance use and harmful activity to increase dopamine.
If we explain in a simpler way by giving an example; When a marathon runner with a normal amount of dopamine gains a rank in the race, his dopamine level increases, but in substance use or harmful activity, this amount increases many and many times. After this process, after repeated use, tolerance develops against the substance used and harmful activity, the person applies to the level of dopamine naturally produced by the brain for residual substance use and harmful activity.
As a matter of fact, as the tolerance to substance use increases, even if the person desires the substance intensely, this situation is not due to the person’s desire to enjoy the substance, but because the amygdala becomes sensitive to dopamine stimulation. Dopamine deficiency causes many mental disorders, especially depression, anxiety, and Parkinson’s, and conditions such as tremors, loss of balance, weight loss, weakness, muscle cramps, slow-than-normal movement, and suicidal thoughts.
How Innocent Cannabis Is: Dopamine and Cannabinoids
Most of us have seen or heard of stimulant narcotics somewhere. Many people do not put cannabis in this category but argue that it is even more harmless and extremely natural than smoking. Artists and movie stars are very encouraging in this regard. So is it really that harmless? Is there really no dying of cannabis? How does it affect our lives? It is believed to be natural, but unfortunately, that doesn’t make it innocent.
Substances that are in lower categories and known to everyone, such as cannabis, can be found in many places. Sometimes at a business meeting, sometimes at a nightclub. The comfort and relaxation that comes when you breathe in your smoke allow you to make sentences that you cannot make later or look from a window you cannot look at. You gradually lose your sense of reality. In fact, both you and those around you realize that you are more creative over time.
In fact, you will be surprised as if you have seen the things you see so often around you, as if for the first time. This is because the brain gets caught up in external reactions, allowing the creative part inside to concentrate more. This is the reason why most artists use it. Writing better songs, performing better, etc. So how does this plant do all this?
Everything we see around us works or continues in life depending on certain objects. Everything, living or non-living, is dependent on a substance. You can think of it as a chain. When it comes to people, that doesn’t change. We are addicted to everything that makes us relax, feel good. In fact, our hormones and brains are more dependent than we are. Our brain works with dopamine. When you eat a good meal, exercise, improve yourself or do a reproductive job, the reward mechanism called dopamine starts working, and your brain rewards you. That’s why people are addicted to doing something every time.
I said dopamine is released when you eat a very good meal. So what happens if you eat this meal every day? As you can imagine, dopamine ends up decreasing every time. Because your brain will now realize that this is something ordinary, it will want different things, it will want more dopamine. Stimulants such as cannabis cause you to release this dopamine, which you naturally secrete, completely for no reason and much more, and the dopamine you get from the things you do in daily life is not enough for you anymore. Because your body will want that high dopamine again. Thus, you are now addicted to this substance.
Let’s recall the good food example I just gave. I have said that the dopamine you get from this meal decreases every time. The same thing happens when you smoke marijuana. Your brain now gets used to this dopamine and it doesn’t affect you. You want more. Because your brain got its enthusiasm from that toy. For this reason, you start to try increasingly stronger substances. That’s why we hear the names of substances such as heroin, cocaine, MDMA, methamphetamine in the news instead of the news that he died due to cannabis.
Because nobody puts a syringe in his arm out of nowhere. Somehow they are obliged to do so. Because they need that dopamine, and if they can’t get it, that is, if you suddenly cut off the heroin of a heroin user, he will die. For this reason, addicts who are hospitalized are tried to be released gradually by reducing their doses.
Dopamine Isn’t the Only Problem!
Cannabis also affects the cannabinoid receptors in the body with the THC substance it contains. In other words, these are important parts of the brain such as the hypothalamus, hippocampus, cerebellum, and basal ganglia. The body also affects these receptors on its own. However, cannabidiol, which comes from outside, prevents the body from affecting these receptors after long-term use. In this way, you will be compelled to use cannabis.
After a while, those who use this substance continuously look around with empty eyes, even when they are not using marijuana. That’s why they constantly feel hungry, forget everything and lose their sense of reality. In contrast to the high effect of THC in cannabis, CBD has a relaxing effect. For this reason, people who trade cannabis produce very different herbs by manipulating the percentages of these substances.
That’s why heroin is usually the last stop. But the first stop should not be forgotten. If you use such substances and still claim that they should be harmless and legal, give yourself time. Be sure that as you use it, paranoia will appear and you will become increasingly depressed, you will want more. It wouldn’t make any sense to live if you didn’t want it anyway. If we were beings who did not want better and were content with what we are; As the human race, we could never be in our current position.
Yes, maybe you can say nothing happens once. But once you give your brain this reward, you always want it. Because our bodies are programmed to constantly whip us to get better. So when you increase that dopamine a few times, it won’t want to settle for less! Cannabis may not contain harmful additives like cigarettes, but the damage it leaves in the lungs cannot be denied, as well as the dopamine it releases in the body. In long-term use, the damage to the lungs is much more than smoking.
Excessive Cannabis Use Reduces Dopamine Secretion in the Brain
In a recent study published in Molecular Psychiatry; Dopamine systems of heavy cannabis (marijuana) users were found to be damaged. The discovery of reduced dopamine release in the striatum region, which is the part of the brain related to working memory (short-term memory or working memory), impulsive behavior, and attention, combined with the fact that similar effects were previously detected in drugs such as cocaine and heroin, completed one of the missing parts.
Particularly common among young people, and in some countries legally used in certain doses both as a medicinal and recreational substance, marijuana attracts the attention of scientists, and the addictive effects of the use of the herb are being investigated, especially in some key areas of the brain. In a recent study, 11 adults (cannabis group) who were addicted to cannabis aged between 21 and 40 and 12 healthy individuals who were not dependent on this plant were used as the control group.
Looking at the average, it was seen that the cannabis group started using it at the age of 16 and became dependent on cannabis around the age of 20. Again on average for the last 7 years, this group has remained dependent and/or has been (Due to the small number of participants here, the average ages of onset and dependence may vary, but the number of years in between appears to be a relatively robust data). Before the study was conducted, all user participants continued to smoke marijuana every day for a month.
Using positron emission tomography (PET), by labeling and tracking a molecule that binds to dopamine receptors in the brain, scientists were able to measure dopamine release in the striatum and its lower regions (dorsal and ventral striatum), the thalamus, midbrain, and globus pallidus outside the striatum. Cannabis users stayed in the hospital for a week prior to this procedure, being kept away from the substance. The purpose of this application is to test the long-term effects of the substance independent of immediate effects or post-use effects.
Amphetamine was given to the participants to reveal the dopamine release. For the measurement of dopamine release capacity, the percentage of binding of the radiolabeled molecule to be bound to the dopamine receptor was used as an indicator. As a result of applying the same tests to the control group, for cannabis users; Significantly lower levels of dopamine secretion were observed in the striatum and its sub-regions related to associative learning and sensorimotor learning, and also in the globus pallidus regions.
The researchers also tried to explain the relationship between dopamine release in a key area of the striatum and cognitive performance in learning and working memory tasks. Although there was no significant difference in this performance between the groups, when looking at all the participants, it was observed that low dopamine caused worse cognitive performance.
Anissa Abi-Dargham, the lead author of the study and a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC), commented: “In fact, we don’t know for sure whether low dopamine is a pre-existing condition or the result of heavy cannabis use. In the text, excessive use of cannabis causes impairments in the dopaminergic system and various negative effects on learning and behavior. “
Long-Term Cannabis Use Affects Dopamine Levels and Dulls the Brain’s Reward System
Cannabis, a widely used recreational/narcotic substance, has become the subject of medical and political controversy around the world regarding changes in its legal status. For example, in the USA, where half of the young population has used cannabis at least once, many states have legalized cannabis use in recent years. Heavy cannabis use has been associated with the risk of mental disorders such as psychosis, addiction, depression, suicidal tendency, cognitive impairment, and lack of motivation.
However, the causality of cannabis was not conclusively proven in these associations. The steps taken to solve the mental effect mechanism of cannabis are important in this respect. “There is solid evidence that cannabis dulls dopamine levels, and it is very important to understand exactly how this happens and what it means for the health of users,” said a spokesperson for the research team. In the study, the effect of dopamine was examined by analyzing many scientific studies involving brain scans of long-term cannabis users.
In their statements, the researchers said, “We urgently need to better understand how cannabis affects the brain, in order to help legal regulators make informed decisions. If the ‘news’ turns out to be bad as a result of the research, we need to inform them before those in the decision-making mechanism make adjustments that put people at risk. The dopamine system forms the basis of learning and motivation mechanisms. It has been concluded that long-term cannabis use is linked to dopamine blunting in humans. Similar to amphetamine, although the effect is probably not the same. “
A researcher from the team adds, “Considering that cannabis is used in different ways such as respiration and intake in food, it is vital to examine the long-term effects on the brain according to these methods of use.” According to experts, this research helps explain how some people experience cannabis addiction by showing that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive component of cannabis, alters the delicate balance of brain chemicals.
Tetrahydrocannabinol, which increases dopamine levels in the brain, is linked to the harmful effects of marijuana such as addiction and psychosis. THC particularly affects the striatum area, which is involved in decision-making, sense of reward, and motivation. The THC concentration in next-generation cannabis plants increases with an artificial selection from generation to generation, as cannabis growers have selected and grown the most potent THC-containing plants for years. Also, some new synthetic drugs can mimic the effects of THC.
If researchers can explain how tetrahydrocannabinol alters dopamine levels, they could come up with new methods to treat or even prevent addiction problems and other disorders caused by this substance. Such treatments can be vital especially for children, adolescents, babies in the womb, and those whose brains are still developing.
Cannabis, Dopamine, and Mental Illness
It has been suggested that cannabis use causes anxiety reactions, flashbacks, dysphoric reactions and provokes mental disorders. It has been reported that panic reactions, toxic psychosis, and schizophrenic manifestations are common in cannabis users, and the use of alcohol and other psychoactive substances aggravates these symptoms. It has been claimed that there is a positive relationship between extremely negative social factors such as living alone and criminal delinquency (including significant familial predisposition) and psychosis and substance use.
It has been stated that the relative risk of developing schizophrenia is 4.1 times higher in cannabis users compared to non-users. No such relationship has been demonstrated between the use of other narcotic substances and schizophrenia. The clinical picture of psychosis reported to be associated with marijuana addiction; It is characterized by a combination of sudden onset, mild to severe confusion, and schizophrenia-like symptoms (depression, anxiety, auditory hallucinations, and delusions). It has been suggested that these psychoses are regressive. Toxic psychoses have been reported as a result of acute cannabis intoxication.
It is characterized by confusion and amnesia and includes paranoid symptoms. In studies in India, dementia and mania-like symptoms have been detected in those who use cannabis for a long time. Researchers have suggested that cannabis causes premature dementia. Martic, schizophrenic or confusional pictures develop in chronic cannabis users. Dopamine agonists such as cocaine and amphetamines can induce schizophrenia-like psychosis in a single high dose in previously healthy individuals.
Mental disorders related to marijuana can be psychotic or non-psychotic. Cannabis can be the trigger factor in people prone to schizophrenic reactions. It is reported in Asian and North African medical journals that long-term use of cannabis causes psychosis. The effect of cannabis on the mental state varies according to the amount used, duration, frequency, and bio-psycho-social characteristics of the user.
How Does Cannabis Use Affect the Brain?
Cannabis contains a chemical called THC, a chemical almost the same as anandamide. Cannabis is a specialized form of neurotransmitters released by the firing of neurons. After the neurons are fired, they become unresponsive for a while so that they do not overreact or dominate. This allows the brain to function in a more calm and controlled manner. However, cannabis prevents this state of unresponsiveness in some areas of the brain. Neurons always stay active.
It creates a huge increase in thoughts, imagination, and perceptions. Thought becomes the most important and profound thought possible. One cannot see the big picture and remember recent events. The person is in the focus of intense thought at that moment, and the neurons continue to fire for the current thought until they focus on a new idea. Hemp affects dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain.
It often gives a feeling of comfort and relaxation, sometimes laughing attacks and euphoria are observed. It provides pain relief and extreme focus on events and sometimes creates anxiety. Short-term memory affects receptors in areas where learning, coordination, movement control, and mental functions occur. There is a change in time perception and a regression in reflexes.
The effects of cannabis depend on the type and variety of the substance used. While Sativa gives the feeling of talking and laughing; Indica, on the other hand, creates a dreamy effect. The effect of cannabis on humans also vary according to the type of cannabis, the amount and style of consumption, environmental conditions, and the mental state of the consumer.
When smoked to be wrapped like tobacco, it reaches the blood through the lungs in a short time and its effects last for one to three hours. When used via a bong, the first flash effect lasts up to 15 minutes, as it will be taken in powder form intensively. The psychological dependence on marijuana is much higher than its physical addiction. Discontinuation symptoms are observed when not used: Nervousness, tension, loss of appetite, insomnia, and apathy are the main symptoms.
The prevalence of psychiatric disorders, especially schizophrenia, is high among long-term cannabis users. Lung problems, bronchitis, asthma, panic attack, depression, and demotivation syndrome are observed. The greatest danger in cannabis use is the misconception that its content is pure. Synthetic substances are mixed into cannabis bought in the market. The rate of schizophrenia in cannabis users is 7 times higher than in non-users.
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