How does Marijuana Work – Does Marijuana Increase or Release Dopamine?


As we all desire to deeply understand how the use and consumption of marijuana can affect mental health, it is also quite necessary to understand tetrahydrocannabinol or THC effects on the brain. To decipher this system or solve this puzzle, the interaction between endorphins and marijuana is the key. Endorphins are hormones released by the brain with specific functions and roles, including serotonin and dopamine hormones. Long term use of marijuana does affect dopamine levels in the body, but how exactly? We will be discovering more of that later.

How does marijuana work?

Because of its abundance in cannabinoids, cannabis is truly a complex and indeed an amazing plant. When introduced to the human body, marijuana then combines with the complex interactions inside our body systems, which basically means that tons of things happen inside our body every time you take a hit.

THC’s composition or chemical structure is very similar to anandamide, which is a natural brain chemical. Because of their similarity, the human body can recognize THC resulting in changes or alteration in the brain processes and communication. THC can attaching to cannabinoid receptors of our endocannabinoid system and can disrupt or change certain mental and physical functions causing physiological effects. Through the help of our body’s cannabinoid receptors, THC can activate the brain’s reward system. THC can stimulate neurons in the reward system to release dopamine at higher levels than its production in response to natural stimuli.

What is dopamine?

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is naturally produced by the body and is eventually utilized by the nervous system. It is a chemical messenger that sends signals to and from the brain and the body systems, dopamine functions mostly on sending signals that affect the pleasure or reward system of our body. Pleasurable behaviors, getting excited because of a delicious meal, sexual arousal, and others, occur because of dopamine release. Like any other hormones, dopamine should also be maintained in balanced levels or in a state of equilibrium to keep healthy well-being.

The connection between marijuana and dopamine

Many declarations have surfaced, and facts have been stated that cannabis is not physiologically addictive. But, because of the relationship and connection between cannabis and dopamine, long-term and too much use may lead to psychological dependence. However, since physiological dependence is out of the picture, coming off from cannabis will not lead to extensive or problematic withdrawals. But like any other things done regularly, it might be difficult to stop if you are a regular weed smoker who smokes every day.

Cannabis plants have two primary cannabinoids, THC or tetrahydrocannabinol and CBD or cannabidiol, but only THC has a specifically vital relationship with dopamine. When THC gets registered into the human brain, it significantly affects dopamine levels. As mentioned above, dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is released when doing pleasurable behaviors or experiences. It plays an important part in how the brain’s reward system works, and dopamine gives us feelings of happiness that seem to come out of nowhere.

So, the big question is, does marijuana release dopamine? No, not directly, but the dopamine effect has an indirect relationship with marijuana. It works when the brain releases the GABA hormone, which is responsible for regulating dopamine levels. When GABA is working uninhibited, the dopamine levels remain in a specific range. These GABA hormones have cannabinoid receptors, and when you use marijuana, the THC rushes towards the brain and binds into the GABA cannabinoid receptors. This results in an unregulated or unrestricted release of dopamine.

How does marijuana affect the release of dopamine?

As explained above, marijuana has been shown to greatly contribute to increased dopamine levels in the brain, but this happens in an indirect process. The increase of dopamine levels in our body shortly after weed usage results from THC or marijuana’s mechanism of action within our body systems. Short term and long term usage have varying usage and are better when understood.

Short term effects

Short term, the increase of dopamine due to marijuana consumption causes unexplainable happiness, increased appetite, reduced nausea, and just a sense of feeling better as a whole. A study conducted during the year 1997 showed that THC was able to manipulate the neurons responsible for dopamine production. This manipulation done by THC from marijuana resulted in effects that greatly affected the human body’s reward system. However, these effects are easily reversible.

A part of the same 1997 study, no evidence was found regarding the effects of CBD, another major cannabis compound, on dopamine release. To date, there has been no evidence that CBD leads to an increase of dopamine in our body systems.

Long term effects

Chronic and long term usage of marijuana has been proven to contribute to the deterioration of a person’s mental health and well-being. Research has proven that long-term use of weed reduces dopamine’s natural level in our prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for essential brain and body functions such as memory, decision-making, focus, etc. Long term usage also increases nerve firing and decreases the brain’s ability to produce dopamine and eventually require increased THC levels to achieve desired effects.

Slowing down dopamine’s natural production happens due to the body’s dependence on cannabis to increase dopamine. These effects are commonly known as weed burnout symptoms. However, these symptoms can be cured since research also suggests that dopamine levels of chronic cannabis users who have slowly withdrawn from cannabis, eventually return to normal range or levels over time.

Understanding Studies about THC and Dopamine

The interaction and connection between THC and dopamine can become complicated because of the varied effects and results over time. Countless factors are considered, such as genetic makeup and different levels of tolerance for each person. Fortunately, with the acceptance of cannabis in the society, both in leisure and medical field, it becomes a lot easier to grasp and understand. Focus on its numerous health and medicinal benefits have helped address and fill out knowledge gaps in general. Nevertheless, it is always good to remember that THC does lead to a short term increase in dopamine, which is safe and reversible. However, chronic and unwise use of weed can lead to unhealthy dopamine levels and some of cannabis’ unwanted side effects over time.

Giving up THC and turning to CBD

If the time comes when you decide to remove THC from your system without completely getting rid of cannabis, then you may want to try to look at CBD products. CBD will not contribute to the changes in the dopamine levels or production in your body; however, CBD is very effective in dealing with mental and physical conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and inflammation. Using CBD will also help you in stopping or withdrawing from THC. CBD has been proven to be very effective and beneficial for both relaxation and medicinal usage.

What is CBD

CBD or cannabidiol is also a compound found in cannabis plants, and this boasts a wide range of health benefits minus the psychoactive effects. Its important distinction from THC is that CBD has totally no intoxicating and psychoactive effects, so it will not leave you feeling high after use. Even without those effects, CBD still has positive effects and uplifts the mood. CBD has also been known to be effective in managing feelings of restlessness, depression, anxiety, fatigue, and other issues that people struggle from. CBD stays in our body for a good amount of time that is enough for it to create certain effects that our bodies will need.

Cannabidiol is also very useful when it comes to reaching and maintaining equilibrium in the body. This state is referred to as homeostasis or healthy biological balance and is achieved through CBD engagement with the body’s endocannabinoid system. The ECS creates a connection between the different systems in our body and other organs, so that means CBD could totally offer a lot of benefits from a single product only.

Read more about the effects of CBD on our body here.

How Marijuana Interacts with the Brain: The key to marijuana’s effects lies in its interaction with the brain’s endocannabinoid system. THC in marijuana mimics the structure of anandamide, a naturally occurring brain chemical. This structural similarity allows THC to bind to cannabinoid receptors in the brain, particularly in regions that govern functions such as pleasure, memory, thinking, and coordination.

Effects on Brain Function and Physical Abilities: Once THC activates these receptors, it disrupts normal brain function in various ways:

  • Cognitive Impairment: Marijuana use can lead to difficulties in forming new memories, impaired thinking, and challenges in performing complex tasks.
  • Motor Skills: THC affects areas of the brain like the cerebellum and basal ganglia, which are crucial for balance, coordination, and reaction time, thereby impairing physical activities and driving.
  • Dopamine Release: THC stimulates the brain’s reward system, causing an unusual release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure. This high level of dopamine leads to the euphoric feelings often associated with marijuana use and contributes to its potential for addiction.

Long-term Effects and Risks: Using marijuana, especially from a young age, can have significant long-term consequences:

  • Cognitive Decline: Persistent use, particularly from adolescence, can lead to a decrease in cognitive abilities and a potential reduction in IQ.
  • Mental Health Risks: Marijuana use can exacerbate symptoms of mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia.
  • Addiction Potential: About one in eleven marijuana users may develop an addiction, with a higher risk among individuals with pre-existing mental health issues.

Final thoughts

Dopamine plays a very significant role when it comes to bodily functions and major emotional responses. Because of this, keeping dopamine levels balanced and well regulated is a must, both for our physical and emotional well-being. The good productions and levels will have a strong impact on bodily and brain functions and lead to better sleep, mood regulation, focus, and decision-making. After the thorough discussion on the effects of THC on dopamine activity, you might be left wondering about the recovery of dopamine receptors and the dopamine levels returning to normal. Don’t you worry since everything returns to normal. When completely stopped or after a good deal of abstinence, your dopamine receptors will return to their original production, and dopamine levels will be back to their normal range.

We all know that there are tons of benefits that marijuana or cannabis can bring, you just need to use it properly and in the right dosage. It has been long proven that cannabis is certainly suitable for overall wellness. Still, if you are having a hard time working with THC, you may switch to using CBD products since CBD will help you do away with psychoactive or intoxicating effects plus it greatly improves your way of living‘. It will not also affect the release or the production of dopamine in our body. CBD comes in different forms of products such as CBD oil, lotions, edibles, capsules, etc.

We hope that this post has greatly helped you understand how marijuana works and learn the important details when it comes to dopamine and the cannabinoid receptors. We hope this article has helped you decide if you need to switch from THC to CBD products. Just listen to your body and know what you need and then you will definitely get it right!