How Recreational Drugs Affect the Brain
29th OF July 2012
Last month the United Nations World Drug Report showed that Australians and New Zealanders are the biggest recreational drug users in the world.
This surprising research said that altogether, annual use for all drugs except for heroin, “remain much higher than the global average.” It’s a scary statistic and one that shows many of us may still be the dark when it comes to just how dangerous drugs are.We know recreational drug use causes a ‘high’ but without a science degree, it can be difficult to really understand what is going on inside the brain when drugs are consumed.
As they say, knowledge is power and it is only with this information that we can truly understand just how damaging drugs can be.
Cannabis is the most prevalent drug in Australia.It is generally smoked, carrying the chemical substance THC through the lungs to the bloodstream, which then makes its way to the brain where cannaboid receptors react, causing the ‘high’ that users experience.
The parts of the brain that influence pleasure, memory, thinking, concentrating, sensory and time perception and coordinated movement hold the most cannaboid receptors and are therefore the most effected regions.
Chronic marijuana use leads to an adverse impact on learning and memory and the effects can last for days or even weeks.
Ecstasy, or MCMA, binds to the serotonin transporter. The serotonin system is where we regulate our moods. You may have heard the analogy that depression is caused by an imbalance in serotonin levels and that exercise helps increase serotonin levels. MDMA prolongs the serotonin signal and causes excessive release of serotonin from the neurons. This is what causes the feeling of euphoria users experience.
As they say, what goes up must come down and this unnatural high is often followed by depression, sleep problems and severe anxieties. Often these symptoms occur soon after taking the drug but sometimes they occur days or even weeks after.
Chronic MDMA users perform more poorly than nonusers on certain types of cognitive or memory tasks and one study in nonhuman primates showed that exposure to MDMA for only four days caused damage that was still evident six to seven years later.
Normally, dopamine (the brain chemical associated with pleasure) is released in response to a pleasurable signal and then recycled back into the cell that released it.
When cocaine is used, it prevents the dopamine from being recycled so the brain’s normal communication is disrupted and an undue amount of dopamine is built up.
This dopamine excess is responsible for the drug’s euphoric effect but it also can cause long-term changes in the brain’s reward system, which can lead to addiction.
With repeated use, tolerance is built up causing abusers to increase their dose and furthering damage.
GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyic acid) was first discovered as a naturally occurring substance in the brain but has now been manufactured as a drug known commonly as ‘Fantasy’.
Its use as a recreational drug has increased in recent years and it is a seriously scary trend. It has also been labelled as a ‘date rape drug’ as it is easy to add to drinks and has been used in many cases of drug-related sexual assault.
Very recently, pharmacy researchers from the University of Sydney and the University of Copenhagen discovered that the drug latches on to a specific protein receptor known as GABAA Professor Mary Collins, who was involved with the study, said that in moderate amounts it has sedative, sexually stimulating and soporific effects.
The compound is also abused for its euphoric effect, but in combination with alcohol, for example, it is a deadly cocktail that can lead to a state of deep unconsciousness or coma.
Are you surprised at the findings that Australians and New Zealanders are the biggest recreational drug users in the world?
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