Marijuana and Dopamine: The Science Behind It

Marijuana and Dopamine: The Science Behind It

There’s no denying that marijuana makes its users feel good. But what’s behind the euphoria and what happens to those who smoke frequently?

As it turns out, marijuana causes the brain to release a chemical known as dopamine. This chemical plays a role in many essential functions, and is actually related to marijuana in more ways than you might think.

What is Dopamine?

Dopamine is one of many chemicals in the brain that help to regulate its activity. These chemicals are known as neurotransmitters. As the name implies, neurotransmitters work to transmit signals across brain cells, also known as neurons.

But dopamine is an especially important neurotransmitter. It is often called the ‘feel good’ chemical, because it is directly responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward. Dopamine neurons are highly concentrated in a part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens, which is sometimes referred to as the brain’s reward center.

Many biological functions involve the reward pathways of the brain, including appetite, attention, learning, sleep, sex, movement and mood.

Does Marijuana Increase Dopamine?

Yes! All drugs that people take for recreational purposes act to increase dopamine levels, and research shows marijuana is no exception.

Just like caffeine, alcohol, tobacco and cocaine, use of marijuana is associated with a release of dopamine. The temporary rise in dopamine levels is responsible for the euphoria that users of marijuana and other substances experience.

How It Works

While marijuana is similar to other drugs when it comes to raising dopamine levels, the way it works is somewhat unique.

Chemicals in marijuana, called cannabinoids, indirectly increase dopamine by blocking the action of another neurotransmitter called GABA. GABA normally acts to dampen the amount of dopamine released in the nucleus accumbens. However, when GABA is blocked by marijuana compounds, such as THC, the result is an increase in the amount of dopamine released.

Interestingly, it’s not just chemicals in marijuana that have this effect. GABA is naturally inhibited by other cannabinoids produced by the brain. The action of natural cannabinoids, known as endocannabinoids, is believed to play an essential role in the release of dopamine in day-to-day functions.

A study published in 2013 confirmed this fact by showing that mice born without cannabinoid receptors ran on their exercise wheels 20 to 30% less often than healthy mice.

The researchers concluded that the cannabinoid system may help facilitate dopamine release during exercise, and probably other reward-related functions as well. In other words, without the activity of the body’s cannabinoid system, dopamine release in the brain is suppressed.

Long-Term Effects

Since marijuana changes dopamine levels temporarily, many have wondered whether this might lead to long-term effects. 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.

On the other hand, studies suggest that dopamine levels may be affected for a brief period after quitting marijuana. Users may experience a period of withdrawal during which dopamine levels fall below normal levels.

A study published in 2013 also found that cannabis users might have lower levels of dopamine than the average person. One explanation for this is the ‘self-medication’ hypothesis, which describes the tendency of individuals who suffer from dopamine abnormalities, such as people with ADHD, to use substances that increase dopamine.

In fact, some studies suggest cannabis may help relieve symptoms of ADHD

15 Replies

  • Brilliant Artical Rahim thank you I might even try it

  • You welcome Erona,

    If you decided to try it make sure the quality is high before doing it.

    Good luck

  • Great article, thanks for sharing.

  • You welcome Raff

  • I have Restless limb syndrome and ADHD. I take something for both. I am also a cannabis smoker, as well as, ingesting it in other ways. I am also a life long smoker. Started when I was 6.

    My RLS was extremely bad when I was a teenager and then at some point it just disappeared for many, many years. It was only after my accident that it came back, with a fierce calling. Well, reading some of your stories, I am thinking mine is not that bad. However, if I were to quit the mirapex or the cannabis, the RLS would go crazy and since I have a bunch of titanium in my lower back, I can't allow this to happen, as it makes me not able to walk the next day from my legs flipping out all night.

    I think that the cannabis helps but it wouldn't affect it for more than 3 days if I quit. I have quit smoking many times just to clear the head, so to speak. It also renews the high you get once you start again. I started smoking cannabis when I was 11 and believe that is about the time that the RLS mysteriously began disappearing, well, mysterious at the time because I hadn't done any research and tended to ignore things like that. I was just glad it went away. Now that it is back, and I am 30+ years older, I am increasingly more interested in how cannabis works. I have had back surgery. I was injured and was mostly paralyzed from the waist down until they did the surgery. When Cannabis became legal for medical patients, I made sure to get my card so I could grow my own. I am a great gardener. Well, when I could spend the day on the ground, I was a great gardener. Anyways, the point I am trying so hard to make is that smoking cannabis does not do nearly as good a job at the pain levels as ingesting it or rubbing a balm on what hurts.

    I am curious to know what you think of this. I was blown away the first time I ate food, after my surgery. I couldn't believe how little pain I was feeling. Works much better than smoking it, for pain. I am wondering if ingesting it will have the same effect on the RLS. I know I get a great night's sleep if I ingest some before I go to sleep. I started eating it and found out how much it helped and then one time, when I was in the dispensary, there was someone there handing out samples, to clients, of a THC balm. I talked with her a bit and thought I would try it and see how it works. WOW!!! After a few minutes of soaking in, I couldn't believe what I was not feeling. I only wish I could afford to bathe in it every day. The balm worked even better than ingesting it. I am back on 50mcg of Fentanyl patches again for my neck, which is now going to have to have surgery as well.

    Anyways, I will stop rambling now with this last statement. Cannabis is underrated as a pain medication. Ingesting it and using it as a balm are two of the best I have found to deal with pain. I am betting you could put the THC balm on your sciatic nerve and sleep through the night without RLS pain and symptoms.

    I would like to talk to you more about what you have learned compared to what I have learned by doing.


  • Hello Dear Cinamon

    Thank for your detail comment on my post.

    I suppose you live in USA, well I live in Iran, I lived in state for 8 years though, you have a quite amazing health story, first I should say that I don't have RLS but I do suffer from Peripheral neuropathy ( feet pain ) caused most probably from my lower back problem. I do get some relief and sleep by smoking pot.

    I do believe that we can help each other by exchanging our experiences regarding to the issue.

    Growing cannabis

    I grow outdoor Afghani cannabis about 15 plant each year

    I remove male plants letting female plants produce more and more THC

    I do the branching carefully to increase the yield.

    I try to harvest on time, for medical purpose, the color of the resin should be amber by 70-75% ( checking by hand-held microscope ), resin color goes from clear to milky to amber .


    smoking, ingestion, soaking

    Beside smoking, I have prepared cannabis oil ( extra virgin olive oil )

    but I had hard time to consume too much oil to get the "needed effect" but I have not prepared the balm yet, I am thinking of coconut oil to prepare balm for topical use.

    Tell me about how and what kind of ingestible cannabis and balm do you prepare.


  • Honestly, I have only made butter and brownies and cookies, myself but my bf makes some amazing honey oil (purest form of THC you can get). It was originally made by a cancer patient for himself and took off because of the pain relief. That is sold in the dispensary. My bf's is better but he only does small batches and using only the finest ingredients. The dispensaries here in Ca, USA sell so many different types of edibles; from a piece of hard candy to chocolate to cannabis soda. I hear the grape is the best. As for the balm, I got a sample from another woman who makes it. I am not allowed to stand in one place for very long, as it causes too much pain. I grow only about 3-4 plants a year, as it is hard for me to do all the trimming.

    But I guarentee that the edibles and the balm do the trick. He has also made a tincture recipe that is hard going down but the results are worth it.

    Yes, I do grow and know that the crystal's (can't think of the correct word right now) are to be Amber. I try for a 65-70% amber. The higher the cbd's, the better it will be at helping get rid of the pain. Much more than 70%, here in CA, anyways will not be any good to smoke. It will have flowered too much. Very different weather from here to there.

  • In Amber resin, CBD ( relieving pain, helping to sleep effect ) is dominant and in milky resin THC ( feeling high effect ) is present the most.

    Thank for the information, I shall meet your bf to get the recipe of honey oil,

    I shall start my plantation soon.

    Are you in your early 40s now ?

  • I hate to tell you Rahim but your information is backwards. The more amber: the higher CBD. Sounds like you have been growing great pain relief plants if you go for 70+% amber. Do you do Facebook? We could hook up there to further our discussion, especially since I am not sure what time it is in Iran right now, (i.e. how many hours difference there is between us).

  • If you live in CA, I am about 11 hrs ahead, Facebook is filtered in Iran ( Funny but sad ) I would have to use freegate every time I try facebook ( inconvenient ), and most of my friends in facebook don't know I grow cannabis and I think it is safer this way, but we can find a safer rout of communication I am sure.

    You may like to see this :

  • Yes, I am assuming this is a good way to do it. However, my bf uses only the highest quality vodka and then he uses a distillery and what is left after cooking off the rest of the liquid is liquid gold. It is not dried out like what is in the video and has no alcohol flavor, at all. If you have ever had a distillery for making alcohol, it is basically the same thing but adjusted for the goo.

  • I feel like your bf (best friend ?!), is a unique one, I am not into alc distiller but I make fine home made red wine with absolutely no chem additives .

  • He uses no chemicals. It is just heating and cooling and heating and cooling and filtering the green out.

  • Oh, I didn't say he uses chemicals, Just because of my PN, I should avoid hard liquor, that is why I occasionally drink pure wine.

    How about you ? do you drink at all ?

  • Someone I know smoked regularly and suddenly quit, they experienced almost no side effects for 6 weeks and then got restless legs, twitching, action tremors in fingers and dandruff, all symptoms seem to be related to low dopamine, tyrosine helped in short term until tolerance developed and headaches occured. These symptoms still exist after 9 months !

    Any idea how long brian takes to adjust of should this be permanaent, doctors dont seem to know ?

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