The link between cannabis and dopamine

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Smoking high THC cannabis produces a temporary feeling of relaxation, euphoria, creativity and motivation. However, these feelings begin to wane with chronic use.

Consistent use of cannabis over the years alters the brain's response to cannabinoids, and causes a shift in the dopaminergic system itself. Chronic use causes a blunting of the dopamine reward system, and while researchers aren't entirely sure why this happens, adaptation to high THC levels is often associated with decreased motivation and negative emotions.

A 2019 article published in the journal Addiction Biology documented a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial that assessed the effects of cannabis on chronic and occasional cannabis users. They found significant neurometabolic changes in the reward circuitry of casual users.

In contrast, these changes were absent in the brains of chronic users, suggesting a decrease in the sensitivity of the reward circuitry to THC. These data point to possible dopamine blunting and tolerance development after prolonged, heavy use.

Since THC mimics endocannabinoids in the brain, it causes changes in the release of GABA and glutamate, the most important neurotransmitters in the human central nervous system. Overall, this equalizes the initial increase in dopamine neuron activity and the increase in dopamine levels.

However, over time, these effects begin to diminish. As tolerance grows, THC no longer produces the same effects and the dopamine system becomes blunted.

So, you know that THC affects the dopamine system by mimicking our endocannabinoids, but it's not the only cannabinoid that causes changes in the reward system. While THC indirectly modulates incoming neurotransmitters to dopamine neurons, CBD binds directly to dopamine receptors. Non-psychotropic CBD does not produce the same effect as THC. Instead, many users report a clear and relaxing effect that does not impair cognition.

Taking something to the extreme always has consequences. Too much cannabis can lead to poor reward systems and reduced motivation. However, smoking or using cannabis from time to time will not only help you avoid it, but it will also offer a more enjoyable experience every time you decide to indulge.

All information is presented for informational purposes only and does not call for action!