The Meth High Dopamine

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Methamphetamine's powerful effects come from its impact on the brain's reward, or pleasure, center. Meth does not directly release dopamine. It attaches itself to dopamine receptor sites and fools neurons into releasing large quantities of dopamine. This accounts for the intense rush a user experiences from meth.7, 11

In addition, meth prevents dopamine from being recycled. Instead, dopamine is active in the body for much longer, explaining the extra long duration of the meth high. The drug does this by blocking (inhibiting) the dopamine transporter involved in its reabsorption (reuptake) into the original neuron that sent it. Transporters are places on neurons that reabsorb the dopamine after it has completed its job. As a result, more dopamine becomes available to the brain. This extra dopamine, in turn, activates an even greater number of dopamine receptors. This increased release of dopamine is primarily responsible for the intensity and duration of meth-amphetamine's effects.9

In lab animal experiments conducted by Dr. Richard Rawson, director of UCLA's Integrated Substance Abuse Program, sex caused dopamine levels to increase to 200 units and cocaine caused levels to rise to 350 units. With metham-phetamine, dopamine levels jumped to about 1,250 units. Overall, this study showed that meth causes about 12 times as much feelings of pleasure as sex, food, and other activities, including the use of other illegal stimulant drugs. Rawson noted that all illegal drugs of abuse release dopamine, but that methamphetamine "produces the mother of all dopamine releases."11

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