Meth Fools The Brain

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The body produces natural stimulants that control the ups and downs of our biorhythms (the body's natural cycles) such as sleep needs, mood, or hunger signals. For example, everyone has probably experienced epinephrine rushing through the body. Epinephrine is also known as adrenaline, and is produced by the adrenal glands to create the familiar flight-or-fight response the body experiences when confronted with a dangerous or threatening situation. During this response, the body speeds up all necessary bodily functions to protect us from a perceived harm or to help us to act quickly in an emergency. A thrilling roller coaster ride stimulates the release of epinephrine in the body, creating a rush of sensations.16

Methamphetamine provokes the body into creating these types of stimulating body sensations. It does this by fooling the brain into increasing its release and supply of stimulating chemicals. In the case of epinephrine, the meth user is able to artificially stimulate the brain to re-create the energizing rush of feelings, like a racing heart and hyperalertness, that occur normally during a fight-or-flight situation.16

Meth affects other of our body's natural stimulants as well. Norepinephrine assists in the biorhythms of sleeping and waking. A common pattern for most people is to feel more energetic and more able to concentrate in the mornings and to feel more tired and mentally unfocused in the late afternoon. Meth allows temporary control over these natural rhythms by decreasing fatigue and increasing wakefulness.16

Our body's natural stimulants also decrease appetite and hunger. The reason for this may be related to the fight-or-flight response: As the body mobilizes to defend itself, all digestive and other nonessential processes get turned off while essential parts get turned on, namely the brain, blood, and heart, so that physical and mental awareness are increased.16

Everyone is unique, both in personality and their personal biochemistry. Not everyone experiences pleasurable sensations from stimulants. Just like some people do not like roller coaster rides and find their effects unpleasant, some people do not like the effects from stimulants.

THE EFFECTS OF METH ON THE CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM

Drugs do not contain highs; they trigger highs. The potential for feeling high exists naturally within the human nervous system, and countless options for getting high without taking drugs exist. Indeed, pleasure is a genuine physiological sensation. For example, the "runner's high" is a natural physiological response caused by the release of endogenous chemicals, dopamines. Small children love to get dizzy and disoriented by spinning wildly in circles. Many people go skydiving, fall in love, paint, meditate . . . the list is endless.16

Methamphetamine triggers a high via the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS controls the functions of the brain and the spinal cord. There are billions of nerve cells (neurons) within the CNS. A neuron is composed of a cell body; this contains the nucleus that is the director in charge of the neuron. To move a finger to scratch an itch from a bug bite, the neurons responsible for moving your finger need to communicate with each other. Dendrites and axons are fibers on neurons that act like messengers. The axons of one neuron and the dendrites of another neuron are very close but cannot quite touch. These spaces between neurons are called synapses, and because of this distance, the neurons cannot make contact with each other. A neuron releases chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters, from its axon to fill this gap and communicate with another neuron.7, 27

Neurotransmitters can be visualized as keys that unlock and open doors on neurons. These doors are called receptors and are located on the dendrites of a neuron. It is through this "key" and "lock" system that messages are conveyed throughout the CNS.

Most receptors are precisely attuned to accept only one type of neurotransmitter key. There are thousands of receptors in the body that will only open for particular neurotransmit-ters. The primary job of a neurotransmitter is to cross the

Methamphetamine And Brain Synapses

G Infobase Publishing

Figure 4.1 Methamphetamine creates a sensation of pleasure by causing neurons in the brain to release excess dopamine.

G Infobase Publishing

Figure 4.1 Methamphetamine creates a sensation of pleasure by causing neurons in the brain to release excess dopamine.

synapse, find its receptor on the dendrites of the neighboring neuron, and unlock it. The dendrite then delivers the chemical message to the nucleus of its neuron. Message delivered!

Each neurotransmitter is responsible for a particular action. Some stimulate and some inhibit. Some neurotransmitters are responsible for movement. Others are needed for memory or for feeling emotions. Once the message has been delivered, the neurotransmitter is either destroyed or reabsorbed into the neuron that released it. This whole process is called neurotransmission.

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