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How Does Marijuana Affect Dopamine?

By on December 4, 2012

Summary (click to view)

  • Dopamine is a chemical found in the brain
  • Dopamine is responsible for feelings of happiness and pleasure
  • All substances of abuse cause a release of dopamine
  • THC also causes a release of dopamine
  • During withdrawal, dopamine levels will temporarily decline
  • Long-term cannabis use does not impact overall dopamine levels 
  • – Despite all the health hazards associated with drug use, there’s no arguing the fact that drugs – including everyday substances like alcohol and caffeine – make their users feel good, at least in the short run.

    This reinforcing and addictive quality of drugs can be attributed to an essential chemical in our brain called dopamine. And like all substances that people use for fun, marijuana causes an increase in dopamine.

    What is Dopamine?

    Dopamine can affect mood and attention

    Dopamine can affect mood and attention

    Dopamine belongs to a class of chemicals known as neurotransmitters. These chemicals are used by the brain to transmit signals.

    But dopamine is not just any neurotransmitter. Dopamine is known as the “feel good” neurotransmitter because of its role in feelings of happiness and pleasure. What’s more, all substances of abuse act to increase dopamine, though only temporarily. As a result, dopamine plays a major part in the addictive quality of drugs.

    In addition to inducing pleasurable feelings, dopamine also influences the following functions:

  • Mood
  • Sleep
  • Attention
  • Memory
  • Voluntary movement
  • Motivation
    Low levels of dopamine have been linked to disorders such as ADHD and Parkinson’s disease as well as problems with addiction (i.e. addictive personalities).

    Marijuana Use and Dopamine

    Early research seemed to suggest that cannabinoids – the active constituents of marijuana – did not increase dopamine levels like other drugs do.

    Although thought-provoking, the findings would later be dismissed as inaccurate and an overwhelming amount of evidence now confirms that THC – one of the cannabinoids found in marijuana – does in fact cause a temporary increase in dopamine levels.

    This rise in dopamine is mediated by pathways called CB1 receptors and occurs in a region of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens. Scientists believe that increases in dopamine in this region are responsible for the reinforcing and rewarding properties of all known drugs of abuse.

    Cannabis Withdrawal

    Withdrawal occurs when a person stops taking a drug after a period of sustained use. The result is a negative emotional state that enforces drug seeking and cravings.

    Studies have shown that during withdrawal from many common drugs, dopamine levels fall below their normal (i.e. baseline) levels – contributing to the negative emotional state of withdrawal. This decrease in dopamine has been observed during cannabis withdrawal as well.

    Long-term Cannabis Use

    Studies have linked the long-term abuse of substances such as alcohol, cocaine and heroin with a decrease in the brain’s overall production and release of dopamine. This is because most drugs cause damage to brain cells that produce dopamine.

    Cannabis users can breathe easy, however, as cannabinoids are believed to have the opposite effect. Likewise, a study published in 2012 found that long-term cannabis consumption does not result in permanent changes in dopamine levels.

    • Lewis Parker

      “overwhelming evidence” directs you to a government-monitored website.
      You should be ashamed of yourself.

      • themclauchlins

        Pubmed is a library of medical studies using the medline database. Many well conducted studies with numerous authors are indexed in this library. If you are concerned about the bias in the individual studies, you must follow the money. Finding the source of the funding and critically appraising the article for the intent and the quality of the study will give you more information.

        For the particular article you have been so critical about, the grant funding looks to have come from the National Institute of Health and Health and Human Services, which would be government funding. However, the authors come from Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, University of Maryland School of Medicine. I think this looks to be a legit study, done on mice, that shows there is an effect of cannabinoids on the dopamine level.

        You should be ashamed of yourself for jumping to conclusions!

        • Faggot

          dude you can’t like… trust the system man

          • StevenSeagullWingz

            Brohms, Bro. Brosef…. don’t trust the system. One word: 9/11.

    • chris9465

      Hahaha any website about any drug that brings you to a DOT GOV website is a lie…….nothing true here just more government BS and propaganda the author is a fraud

      • Jeremy

        Pothead spotted

    • Jane Peters

      Man made drugs are the ones that are harming people.

      • Kelly M Woodcox

        Very true!!!

      • sig

        Like paracetamol?
        Natural drugs can be as bad. there are millions of toxins in nature. in fact man made drugs are more likely to be safe because they are created in a lab whereas natural drugs were not ‘intended’ to be consumed by humans. that’s why there are billions of poisons in nature.

        Dont get me wrong i love weed but that’s just a terrible argument

        • Emmanuel Apolonio Cortes

          I believe he is refereing to man made prescition and syntytix drugs.

        • Chris Riley

          I laugh at the idea that natural things are safe too

    • Will

      Why are people claiming this article is full of lies? It’s a fact that smoking/consuming marijuana releases an abnormal amount of dopamine in the brain which is why you feel “high” when you smoke it. It’s not neccesarily a bad thing the same chemical is released by your brain when you eat chocolate. The other people are just jumping to conclusions because they probably don’t even know what dopamine is. The only thing I would assert is false is the claim that you can become addicted to marijuana.

      • Karol

        well I’d say that eating chocolate is a bad thing as well, but that’s another discussion…

      • Ryan

        yeah..except let’s not forget its the THC that’s really making your high.. dopamine is just what you might call a bonus. Call me crazy but the first time i smoked weed, it was definately the high that made me wanna keep smoking in the future. Its kind of like how people who like chocolate keep going back for more because they know it tastes fucking delicious!! i mean comon..who dosnt like chocolate?

        • hi

          Chocolate is delicious because it is physically rewarding, your brain sends out dopamine. Duh??

          • High

            I love milk! And from the first time i tasted it i knew this was the drink for me… am I a addicted to milk? or do I just like it

            • StevenSeagullWingz

              YA, UR STUPID. Why? Because….The first time you tasted milk was from your mothers titty. And lets say the first MEMORY of you tasting milk(which is what you’re probably referring to) was when you were 5 years old….. you probably like drinking so much milk because it gives you the mad poops, and fart noises were funny to you then, ALSO who doesn’t enjoy a good DUMP? Now, assuming you lived under a rock until age 27, and drank your first glass of milk then… same answer: it’s not an addiction.. You just like milk. While arguably our bodies are constantly on the lookout for something to be psychologically addicted to, I don’t think a beverage such as milk has the chemical influence on your BRAIN like that bomb-sticky-icky does. Meaning, your dopamine levels don’t react the same when it’s milk you’re smoking, or weed you’re drinking.

            • Molly

              Food increases dopamine levels by 200%. Amphetamine by 1000%. I dont know where inbetween there chocolate and cannabis go but the more it increases your dopamine levels, the more dopamine will decrease when withdrawal and the more withdrawal the more addictive it is. Alot of people are addicted to food = obesity. But to your question, nah, by the sounds of it you just like milk :)

        • Sig

          eating chocolate releases dopaine in the brain. THC is a molecule that bonds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain. these then increase the amount of dopamine between synapes and slightly reduces the dopamine reuptake. The fact that there is more dopamine inbetween the synaps than usual prompts the postsynaptic neuron to flare when under normal circumstances it would not have. Because this happens on a massive scale you will feel ‘high’. The difference between THC and other substences that do the same e.g. nicotine and cocaine is that THC also affects seretonin levels in the same way.

          • Mjimih

            does serotonin return to normal like dopamine with sensation?

        • Will

          THC is the chemical responsible for releasing the abnormal amounts of dopamine in the brain when you are high.

        • marshmeyer

          You are so incredibly stupid.

      • Chris Riley

        In what sense do you believe cannabis isn’t addicted? Just curious

        • Will

          It’s less addictive than alcohol or cigarettes. You will not find very many people wondering the streets looking for their next joint. You have to understand that you can physically become addicted to anything but, when people smoke marijuana multiple times its not necessarily because they are addicted to it. It’s because they enjoy it.

      • docks

        I’m a pot smoker being I enjoy the dopamine release and it’s a good pain killer and cancer treatment AND supplement depending on how you consume it; anyways I think I have a addictive personally and the short-term affects on the dopamine receptions can be very depressive. Some of the knowlegde regarding substance dependence is good to know, if you plan to go sober even if you simple smoke pot (heavy) be prepared to experience endorphin’s or laughter because it’s quite depressive anywhere from 1-9 months of your recovery. The best way to counter the depression is eating ultra healthy plant based nutrition. Other than that pot is harmless.

      • Mjimih

        agreed, but it’s only bc of the last 11 words in this article. pot isn’t as evil.

      • Molly

        The claim that marijuana can be addictive is not false. Caaan be. It might just differ from person to person. Marijuana temporarily increases the dopamine levels and then it withdrawals and dopamine goes below its normal, also temporarily. And my guess is that people with already low dopamine levels will be easilier addicted cuz their dopamine levels goes up to normal but then even lower below normal after.
        And I know you can become addicted to marijuana for a fact, because I did! And still am.

        • Jean

          I think you are in the wrong way, the fact that marijuana isn’t consider to be an addictive drug is for a reason. There are some many points that you might be taking wrong, let’s say.. you have a psychological problem, you smoke marijuana and feel HIGH, If you liked weed, you will eventually start to consume it, even If you are not an addict, and your mental state will confuse the weed-need with your psychological problem. As you said, someone that have dopamine levels down probably is going to feel normal high and when their mood is getting dropped probably is getting more depressive than normal people, but that’s crap. 2 persons smoke weed, the two have different dopamine levels, they ingest the same amount of weed, BOTH are feeling high, as they ingest the same amount of weed and they have different amount of dopamine levels, they are actually experiencing a different state, due to the difference in their dopamine levels, it cannot be posible for one man to smoke the same amount of weed than the other and experience BEST, HIGH, that the other and say that you dropped the dopamine level’s too much, it is equal for everybody that shared your blunt. I say this because you are not getting addicted to weed, you are getting addicted to think that you are addicted, it’s rare but can happen. Enjoy weed, isn’t going to increase your dopamine levels to dramatically.

      • just sayin

        You CAN become addicted to marijuana. I actually get really annoyed when people say you can’t. I know some people that practically live for pot, and others who self medicate. I’ve seen it happen to several people as well as myself when I was younger

    • Larry

      The comment in the final paragraph overstates the study’s findings:

      “Chronic cannabis abuse or dependence, of mild severity, is not associated with the same magnitude of [dopamine] alterations observed in other addictions.”

      The researchers could only draw conclusions about the effects of “mild” use. The study noted that some individuals were unable to stay off marijuana long enough to qualify as participants. As a result, it’s inconclusive what the harm may be on these heavy users.

      The study also caveated that there may be an impact from use during adolesence. That bit requires further study.

      This article’s assertion that “[c]annabis users can breath easy” is premature.

      • Lynn Boostedt

        I smoked pot for a long period of time. When I stopped I was irritable for a couple days. I didn’t smoke for years. Pot is not the same physical addiction as other drugs. Opioid dependence is more of a physical dependance. I don’t smoke pot and I haven’t for a long time. I don’t drink alcohol either. As soon as pot is legal you can bet I will treat my brain to some elevated dopamine. You don’t have to. That’s your choice. But know this you don’t have a right to choose for others. People don’t OD from pot. Cannabis is more of a want to then a want than a need to.

    • willy_willy_v2

      All addicts will defend their addiction to the point of absurdity. Therefore, I take all defenses of marihuana with a grain of salt. You cannot compare dopamine level elevation gotten from a joint of kush with that of a chocolate bar. The temporary dopamine levels gotten from smoking a jay are much higher of course.

      • spacialist

        Nonsense! I have worked with many addicts that are quite clearly reporting addictions. Including many that are distressed by the difficulty of abstinence in the face of high motivation to discontinue use. Not all addicts are in denial! That is a highly exaggerated over generalization and as such is inconsistent with logical and thorough research.

        • Casey Tucker

          You’re right. My use of the word “always” created a fallacy out of my statement. But despite the semantics and

          because the prefrontal cortex is wired to justify cravings, it is probable that we can all agree with denial being a hand-in-hand aspect of addiction. The true test here is in not previously knowing the substance is addictive. Alcohol, cigarettes, cocaine – these drugs have a social stigma of addiction already. Denial of addictions to these drugs will probably increase the farther back in history we look, due to diminishing education on addiction as an actual disease of the nervous system.
          Pot is a special story compared to these traditionals, however. It is here that denial has gone as far as public opinion and policy. Because it does not have that stigma of addiction, whether it is or isn’t addictive is an open debate. It results in lots of denial due to the fact that dopaminergic functions in the brain just aren’t on everybody’s curriculum. If cocaine were invented now, there may be a similar level of denial of addiction that there is with marijuana today (or, just the same level for cocaine back when it hit the streets. Which was much higher than it is now).

    • ~SMP

      Everyone should also consider the work and research of Dr. Gabor Mate, who wrote the book “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts” which is mostly about his addiction patients in Vancouver BC. He found that kids who grow up in a negative, stressful and often violent environment have a decreased Dopamine response/release. Meaning that if you were an abused child, the parts of your brain that release the natural “good feeling” Dopamine is stunted, so you don’t or can’t feel normally “happy”. Also the stress response mechanism / adrenal glands of your endocrine system over develop, so that you are more likely to respond to most of life’s situations from a scared / stressful / negative point of view based on your childhood experiences. The way my doctor put it was that I have a “Cannabinoid deficiency”, so I need to supplement my diet with “vitamin THC” to get my Dopamine levels in a normal range.

    • truth teller

      Marijuana obviously has its place in the medical arena. The problem lies with people who take the facts and use the facts as excuses to use when they don’t need it for medical reasons. It’s prescribed in states that allow it for a reason. Stop making excuses for using when in reality many people are self prescribing when they do google searches and proclaim and self diagnose themselves so they can get high. Stop using the facts as an excuse for your stoner behavior. If you need it, a Dr with years of training (as opposed to Google searching for facts that will support your addiction) will prescribe it. Those addicted love to spend hours only researching the good effects and ignoring the dangerous issues

    • Mjimih

      Farout! :-)

    • jonah

      okay so i just explained this to my mom and ill explain it in short marijuana is a “drug” that increases dopamine. in kids/teens/adults with adhd / parkinsons desease their brain has a low ammount of neurotransmitters which is exactly what dopamine is it helps the brain focus,breath, sleep, eat and have great feeling emotions which is why cannabis is a very very very helpful treatment to adhd, insomnia, pain, depression, anxiety, ptsd, and all sorts of other diagnosis that people have. (hint most of the doctors dont want this “drug” to be legal because it is so helpful for most things that they would have little to no need for personal doctors that diagnose you with things so they would be out of part of a job.)

      • Ryan McLaughlin

        Uhm…. no.

        • just sayin

          Why no? Elsewhere I mentioned that pot is actually addictive for many people so I’m not pro-pot or anti-pot, but pot actually IS good for treating everything Jonah mentioned. That’s a fact. I also know from personal experience that weed is an amazing cure for ADHD. In college I used to blaze up before exams to help me focus and quell distractions and (believe it or not) it worked like a charm. I had a 3.5 too, I was a good student.

          Weed can be an amazing medication for so many things, its just feels so nice to consume its easy to abuse.

          • just sayin

            I should probably mention that smoking pot before exams is only helpful if you are a heavy smoker with ADHD!! Otherwise I would imagine it would have the opposite effect.

    • jonah

      THC also has cancer fighting agents which in turn fight against and obliderate the 50 other carcinagines which are put into your body if you smoke weed but the thc cancels it out so all thats left is something that helps with a wide veriety of deseases and disorders. so please if any of you wanna tell me that me and a crap load of other professors dont know what their talking about please email me its thank you

    • googlethis

      The chemicals inside marijuana do increase the rate at which your brain releases dopamine. Increasing the dopamine levels in your brain lead to hyper focus (watching tv for hours) and/or paranoia, among other things. You may discredit this because you may not feel paranoid or you may have the ability to mulit-task. This just means that your baseline dopamine levels are lower than the one who is feeling paranoia. Someone with low dopamine levels may have trouble focusing, or feel a bit depressed.

    • john78

      Sadly enough this is true, I’m suffering from it myself. However, they schould’ve mentioned that it mostly occurs with smokers who start at a very young age. I started smoking at age 14 and smoked almost daily at 16, so yeah it is entirely my own fault. But it is also true that this damage done isn’t permanent, I’m 19 now and quit for almost a week now and despite that my apathy has made place for several witdrawal symptoms, I can finally say that I feel myself become the person again I always used to be. Weed can mentally really fuck you up (if you’re not that resistent) but luckily the symptoms aren’t temporary and overall the drug does more good (medicinal wise) than bad.
      Note: This is just my personal experience, these problems that occured to me from abusive smoking as a teenager aren’t the same or even recognisable for everyone, ofcourse.

    • Ebo

      I’m addicted but I don’t think it affects my life negatively. Hey its keeping me alive

    • a

      Studies show that after withdrawal of weed after daily use for a long period of time, some people can have troubles with sleep, stress and anxiety for about 2 weeks. So in that sense it is addictive.

    • Kim

      So are my dopamine levels going to stay low if i dont smoke weed

    • troy

      my son is adha ..ridlinn as I hate the thought it helps him ..adha people sleep sux ..I have suffered insomnia for my life ..I recently came off clorazapam n that was hard very hrd puking sweating crapping my pants ..I feel nabalone is my sons answer to a non addictive sleep aid there research to back my findings

    • Claire

      This is such a stoner conversation LOL

    • Laura

      You Are so wrong. The brain gets tricked . Marihuana makes stupid and takes away decision making. You think only of your pocket