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Dopamine and Marijuana: Does the Stoner Stereotype Now Have Scientific Backing?

Marijuana lowers dopamine in the brain and affects motivationNew research regarding dopamine and marijuana gives scientific backing to the stoner stereotype of lackadaisical or slacker pot smokers. A recent study found that people who smoke marijuana regularly over a long period of time are more likely to produce less of the brain chemical that is linked to motivation: dopamine.

Using PET scans, U.K. researchers compared the brains of regular pot smokers to non-smokers of the same age and sex. The regular pot smokers in the study reported using marijuana quite heavily, began using the drug between the ages of 12 and 18, and had experienced symptoms of psychosis (bizarre thoughts or strange sensations) while using marijuana. What the researchers found was that the regular pot smokers, and those who began smoking pot at an early age, had lower levels of dopamine in a part of the brain known as the striatum.

Researchers had originally hypothesized that they would find the opposite to be true of dopamine and marijuana users. That because psychosis is often linked to increased dopamine production, they expected to find higher levels of dopamine in the regular pot smokers. But dopamine production was actually lower.

The researchers also concluded that the dopamine and marijuana brain changes were likely reversible. This is because previous studies have not find any difference in dopamine production when comparing former pot smokers and people who were never regular pot smokers.

Symptoms of marijuana dependence:

  • Do you experience tolerance to the effects of marijuana, meaning that more marijuana is needed to get the same effect?
  • Do you experience withdrawal from the effects of marijuana, such as irritability, trouble sleeping and depressive symptoms?
  • Do you use more marijuana than was intended?
  • Do you have a persistent desire to stop taking marijuana or to cut down but are unsuccessful?
  • Do you spend a great deal of time obtaining, using or recovering from the use of marijuana?
  • Do you give up important activities in order to use marijuana?
  • Do you use marijuana even though it is causing problems in your life?

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