An Introduction to Dopamine

You know the ‘feel good’ feeling you get when you are rolling weed and about to smoke?   The feeling that hits even before smoking and kicks in before feeling stoned?   That’s dopamine, one of the more abundant neurotransmitters in the body.

Dopamine is can be thought of as ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter and plays a significant role in feelings of pleasure and happiness.   Many other functions of the body are influenced by dopamine include sleep, memory, attention, motivation and voluntary body movements.

Dopamine is there for our survival.   It gives us a feeling of reward when we do something that is important to survival like eating and having an orgasm. It helped us to evolve and survive as a species.

But today, we live in a world of excess, but our bodies and minds are still wired to a world of scarcity.   Our dopamine system is still working, but is drawn towards hedonistic desires, rather than living requirements.

Marijuana and Dopamine

When you smoke weed, you stimulate dopamine release.   Basically, marijuana use amplifies pleasure sensations that come from the signals of excess dopamine. Since this chemical increases pleasure that lasts longer than the typical dopamine “high”, the drive to reach that level of euphoria grows stronger each time you smoke.   We, of course, know this as tolerance!

dopamine marijuana striatum“A key feature of all addictive drugs is the ability to increase synaptic dopamine levels in the striatum, a mechanism involved in their rewarding and motivating effects…. Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive component in cannabis, induces dopamine release in the human striatum.”

http://www.nature.com/npp/journal/v34/n3/full/npp2008138a.html

If you are smoking weed a lot, and you smoke more because your tolerance goes up, you are altering the natural balance of dopamine in your brain.   The brain figures out that an overabundance of dopamine is being produced and the brain doesn’t feel the need to product as much, because it’s getting that dopamine from weed.

When dopamine is released in the brain, without realizing it, we are training ourselves to want to repeat whatever it was that produced the dopamine rush. It’s our survival nature. The dopamine rush and associated high is one of the ways that you get ‘psychologically addicted’ to marijuana.   We are all hard-wired to be dopamine seekers.   Smoking weed becomes a shortcut for dopamine release.

Even if you aren’t a lazy stoner, you probably know one.   They are getting all of their dopamine from weed, so their reward system is messed up. They don’t seek pleasure from ‘natural’ activities like food, exercise, or sex because they are overstimulated on dopamine from weed.

As seen above, while marijuana does not produce the same type of chemical dependence as other “street drugs”, it does change the way the brain produces and triggers dopamine release.

Dopamine and Marijuana Withdrawal

When there is no dopamine there is no pleasure. When there is no pleasure there is feelings of depression, lethargy and foggy brain. Many people assume that when they cease using marijuana that their body will simply detox, and with the drug out of their system, their brain will automatically begin producing dopamine again. While this is the case, it does take time.

Marijuana withdrawal is very real. For heavy smokers, the first 30 days can be a rough ride.   If you have ever quit smoked weed before, or you are looking to quit now, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Your brain is used to getting a shot of dopamine from smoking, and now that you have taken away the dopamine source, you get stressed and anxious.   You are craving to get back to baseline, but your baseline has been altered because of how much weed you have smoked, so while you have reached ‘higher highs’, now it’s payback time with ‘lower lows’.

Without an artificial or unnatural source of dopamine, your brain will repair itself and the lows will dissipate as your brain starts to compensate. After the 30 day period, some people still don’t quite feel normal. The general consensus is that an estimated 90 days must pass before the brain’s healing process can start to trend towards baseline.   From my anecdotal research, post-acute withdrawal can go take as long as 18 months but you WILL notice progress along the way.

 

 

 

 

    15 replies to "Dopamine in Marijuana Addiction and Withdrawal"

    • Dave

      After quitting as a longtime chronic user there is no pleasure from orgasm, which used to be great. 5 months and still no improvement.
      long term chronic smoking gave me COPD, breathing is improving but it’s obvious serious damage was done.
      After 35 years of smoking (never cigarettes) I’m done with it, no more smoking, maybe I’d eat it but I’d just as soon never touch it again.

      • John Mckee

        Hi Dave.

        Thanks for the note. I think a lot of people discount the effects of daily smoking on the lungs and cardiovascular system. Your lungs will be improving as you have more non-smoking time under your belt.

        J

      • SleeplessGirl

        Exactly same here re no pleasure from orgasm. I could reach it ok, but it was pathetic. That went on for 5 months…and then I met someone and BOOM! Back in the game. I’m aware this is dopamine release again from the excitement of a new relationship, but hoping things won’t go back to pathetic once the first flush has worn off.

    • akash

      Wel hi…i smoked weed very mini joint just for 2month and after 3 dys panic attack den after 2 dys full withdrwal started ..restless dry mouth dp dr dizziness fully dizzi and weakness scared horrble anxiety and nightmares..every evening i die.mmgt many suicide thghts …i m almost 2month clean but no improvements i feek depressed nt bein social..every evening head spins some days feel bit of ok but no excitement in anything… I m on day 59
      When i will see improvements?? I m 20 yr old nor i smoke nor i drink nly i did weed for 2month…dizziness kills in the evening helpp

      • John Mckee

        Hey Akash. Everyone is different and recovers differently. Improvements come gradually. I highly recommend you speak to your doctor about feeling depressed and anhedonic. Thoughts of suicide are very serious. http://suicide.org/ is an excellent resource if you need to speak to someone immediately.

        Think about how bad the panic attacks were and where you are now. You’ve improved greatly and will continue to. Another marker is at 90 days where you are almost certain to pass a drug test. Your brain and body will adapt.

        John

    • akash

      Thnx jhon now i m on day 66 and my dizziness is gone ..it comes when i think too much about it but now a days depersonalization derealiztion it is extremely horrible for me specially in the evening and night.. I have panic attacks too sometimes suddenly heart rate faster and i feel so depressed and i start crying ..when i will get fine? I m not able to focus how can i do study or job? I have extreme fear that DP DR will never go! I dont know why everyone says get to 90 days.

    • reality

      A 2012 study set out to investigate this and concluded that unlike users of other common drugs, frequent cannabis users do not suffer from lasting changes in dopamine levels.

      • John Mckee

        Do you have a link to this study. The most recent one I saw showed that FMRI of addicted individuals was different than those that didn’t smoke.

      • Nicolas

        would love to read the study myself…

    • Quinn

      I’m 18 years old soon to be 19 and I am just considering now how much longer I’m going to smoke weed 2 to 4 times daily from a bong for the past 4 years or so. I have gone off the stuff for month long stints during the last 4 years but the thought of giving up weed entirely seems so inconcievably grim that I continue to put off quitting. I would label my usage as a dependency because I rely on it to take the edge off after my tasks are done each day. I’ve found that when I do not have it around the house I am easily susceptible to irritability and frustration just from any silly little thing that gets in my way. Sleeping is also much more difficult without it even with the help of other natural sedatives like lavender oil and chamomile tea. My question is, if I continue to smoke like so, will it become increasingly difficult to be just as content without having it at all? If so how long might that take?

    • Danny

      I am an occasional smoker and usually do not smoke for more than a week at a stretch. After that I take a break for about a while. But once I stop I start getting very irritable from the second day and invariably end up in a fight with family or friends before day 6 of taking a break. This happens every time I stop. Just not able to handle those few days. My mind is restless and goes back to things of the past and I just dwell on unpleasant things. Things get back to normal after a week. I wish there was a way to handle this better. This does not seem to be the case with most of my friends whose frequency is the same as mine. Any ideas how I could handle the week better.

    • Andy

      Where’s the love button for this article? ….I’ve been an addict for 20 years and this has just told me everything i always wish I’d known, the dopemine thing especially I get no pleasure from anything anymore. The detrimental effects of my chronic use have finally caught up with me, I’m a shadow of the person I used to be, and through smoking lungs are like treacle! Craziest thing I love weed, if I could have ever just picked it up and put it down, ya know what I’m saying. In moderation it’s amazing, but addiction has ruined everything, trouble is especially here in the UK there’s no real help unless you’re a heroin addict. I’m really glad I found this page.

    • Makayla

      Ever since I quit , i feel like shit. And I feel like that has to do with the fact that I was wayy too young to use a substance that alters my mind.I regret it everyday ,its been 7 weeks of sobriety and I just wanna get back to normal. However this blog is helping me have hope.

    • EmmaLau

      I have smoked heavily for over 10 years with my partner, we used to do loads of fun things and have great sex but it gradually disappeared until we were both just sat there every night staring at our phones. 2 weeks ago I decided to end it, it’s been very hard and feels like I haven’t eaten or slept since then. I’m scared because my orgasms used to be amazing when I was smoking, and these last 2 weeks I can’t even get close to climax. I hope it doesn’t stay like this, freaking out about it, wasn’t something I expected.

    • Paul Kemp

      Day 3 – feel depressed like hell. Hard to sleep. It’s comforting to know I’m not the only one going throught this. Stay strong everyone. Much love.

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