Dopamine. Most likely, you’ve heard of this brain chemical previously. This chemical, sometimes referred to as the “feel-good” hormone, is crucial to our emotional state. Dopamine, however, is also involved in more complex emotions and behaviors, such as reward and addiction, in addition to making people happier.
What else can make you feel happy, do you know? weed. This herb has the power to quickly propel us into a happy mood. THC is responsible for this effect because studies show it raises dopamine levels in the brain temporarily. Indeed, smoking or consuming cannabis has been linked to an increase in dopamine concentration, according to years of cannabis research.
However, when comparing the short- and long-term effects, things become a little more complicated. Cannabis does seem to increase dopamine acutely. However, long-term use of the herb may disrupt regular dopamine signaling. Cannabis has a number of therapeutic effects that may help treat a variety of medical conditions. If you’d like to include cannabis in your medical regimen, speak with a medical marijuana doctor.
One such neurotransmitter is dopamine. What is meant by this? In order for neurons (brain cells) to chemically communicate electrical signals to one another, they release this chemical. However, not every neuron is always producing dopamine. This function is only assigned by the body to nerve cells found in the substantia nigra, a part of the brain that is essential for movement and reward. Dopaminergic neurons comprise, in total, roughly 3–5% of this region.
These specialized cells use the amino acid tyrosine to produce dopamine. Following production, this neurotransmitter is stored in spherical synaptic vesicles, which fuse with cell membranes to enable the chemical’s safe release by neurons. Neurons are poised, waiting for a stimulus. They release dopamine in response to an action potential, which is a sudden electrical shock. After that, the molecule crosses the synaptic cleft and binds to one of the D1, D2, D3, D4, or D5 subtypes of dopamine receptors.
Apart from the technical aspects, how does this seemingly straightforward action affect our general state of consciousness? Because of its essential role in the brain, dopamine is involved in:
This one molecule has a profound effect on how we go about our daily lives. It influences our choices, aids in our bedtime transition, and even influences our reach for a bong or joint. You see, dopamine essentially controls all of our perceptions of rewarding behavior.
Dopamine and the Reward System
Human behavior is driven by a very small number of factors. First of all, there are necessities like food, shelter, and water that we cannot live without. Second, there are incentives: specific actions that make us happy.
However, how does the brain determine a reward’s worth? It features a unique system of rewards. This reward system is composed of brain regions that use dopamine as a chemical messenger. When the brain anticipates a reward, these neurons fire. Dopamine not only improves our mood in the here and now, but it also fortifies synaptic connections and creates emotional memories associated with particular rewards.
The reward system starts to reinforce behaviors linked to positive outcomes as this network gets stronger. Why would your brain decide against enjoying itself? From the standpoint of evolution, everything makes sense. Ultimately, our ancestors survived because of the satisfaction that came with securing a meal. If there hadn’t been a reward circuit to keep them going, they would have sat around starving to death.
This system can, and often does, backfire, though. The brain quickly develops a fondness for sweets and enjoyable psychoactive experiences, including getting high on cannabis. Even though these joys can be quite beneficial when used in moderation, prolonged chronic use of them can have negative effects. Furthermore, a highly reinforced reward system may cause us to lose sight of the long-term effects in favor of pursuing immediate gratification.
Dopamine’s effects go beyond behavior and mood to impact more general physiological aspects of human life, such as:
Dopamine has various other functions, one of which is facilitating human movement. We can move and articulate our joints by voluntarily contracting our skeletal muscles thanks to the nervous system. The biochemical communication that fine-tunes an organism’s movement is mediated by dopamine. Degeneration of dopamine neurons causes reduced motor coordination, poor balance, and spontaneous movement in Parkinson’s disease patients.
Eating or smoking cannabis alters motivation, focus, and mood. As dopamine affects these feelings as well, it is not surprising that cannabis use affects dopaminergic function.
Because the components of the cannabis plant interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), they have a wide range of effects on human health. This network of receptors, signaling molecules, and enzymes controls a wide range of physiological functions, including appetite and bone remodeling.
Dopamine neurons also exhibit ECS components. They act as a kind of traffic controller here. In the brain, the majority of neurotransmitters move in an antegrade direction. This indicates that they bind to receptors on the postsynaptic neuron after being synthesized in the presynaptic neuron. Endocannabinoids defy popular belief. They move from postsynaptic to presynaptic neurons in a retrograde fashion. They serve a special purpose because of this directional difference.
They are able to control the incoming signals from other neurons by moving backwards. In summary, this intricate relationship can be expressed as follows: endocannabinoids promote dopamine neuron firing by blocking GABA neuron flow. In contrast, they lower the rate at which dopamine neurons fire by blocking incoming glutamate signals.
To alter presynaptic input, the endocannabinoid 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) binds to the cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) site. It’s interesting to note that cannabinoids like THC can affect dopamine firing because they bind to this receptor as well.
Yes. THC modifies the release of neurotransmitters like glutamate and GABA by imitating endocannabinoids in the brain. All things considered, this causes a spike in dopamine levels and an initial increase in dopamine neuron firing.
But with time, these benefits begin to wane. The dopamine system is blunted as tolerance increases and THC loses its original effects.
If anything, your relationship with cannabis should get better now that you know more about it and dopamine. Since information is empowering, being aware of the precise ways that cannabis affects key neurotransmitters in your brain should encourage you to use the plant sensibly. Anything used excessively will always have negative effects. An overabundance of cannabis can cause poor motivation and disruptions to the reward system. But occasionally indulging in cannabis through smoking or eating will not only help you avoid this, but it will also make each time you choose to indulge more enjoyable.