A popular anti-drug commercial campaign was launched in 1987. In it, an egg is fried and the actor says, “This is your brain on drugs.” The commercial was meant to demonstrate how devastating the effects of drugs on the brain can be. Some drugs can alter the way the brain functions permanently and cause severe damage. Depending on the drug, one or more systems of the brain are affected. These systems include the brain stem, the cerebral cortex, and the limbic system. The brain stem controls basic functions that are critical for life such as respiration, and heart rate. The areas of the cerebral cortex enable us to see, smell, hear, feel, and taste and also give us our ability to think, plan, and make decisions. The limbic system contains the brain’s reward system and regulates our ability to feel pleasure and how we perceive our emotions. It is activated by healthy activities that allow us to sustain life, such as eating and exercising and can also be activated by drugs.
Here are how different drugs affect your brain.
Digestion turns “magic” mushroom’s active ingredient psilocybin into a psychedelic that causes hallucinations. It affects the prefrontal cortex of the brain and works by binding to the same receptors in the brain as the neurotransmitter serotonin, which allows the drug to alter mood. In a study conducted in 2014, participants were injected with 2 milligrams of the drug. Researchers noted a high increase in the number of brain connections and stronger activity across regions of the brain that normally do not engage. The brain becomes “hyper connected” so to speak.
In another study, neuroscientist David Nutt of the Imperial College London found changes in brain activity patterns. Some areas of the brain were more pronounced and had more activity, but some were more muted. The areas that decreased in activity included a region of the brain that maintains our “sense of self.” Users reported feelings of calm and joy, while others had feelings of intense anxiety or extreme paranoia which lasted anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. The neurological changes don’t just last for the duration of the “trip”, but can last for a year or more after.
Opiates such as heroin, fentanyl and prescription painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin work by attaching to opioid receptors in the brain and send signals that block pain. Their chemical structure mimics that of a natural neurotransmitter normally found in the body. These receptors also calm the body during times of stress and slow breathing. They flood the reward system of the brain with dopamine, a neurotransmitter. When the reward center of the brain is overwhelmed with dopamine it causes intense feelings of euphoria and reduces feelings of pain in a way that cannot occur naturally, and this can make it psychologically addictive in as little as three days.
Long term use of opioids can change the prefrontal cortex as well as the medial temporal lobe of the brain. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for many functions including impulse control, personality, focus, organization, and complex planning. The medial temporal lobe is a system of structures in the brain that are essential for long-term memory.
Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC is the psychoactive component in marijuana and has both short-term and long-term effects on the brain. THC acts in several different areas of the brain causing a number of reactions including altered senses (ex. Seeing brighter colors), changes in mood, impaired memory, difficulty thinking, and hallucinations, paranoia or delusions when taken in high doses. The “high” that people feel is a result of THC acting on cannabinoid receptors on nerve cells in the brain, overacting certain parts. Long term effects include impaired thinking, depression, anxiety, and trouble with memory and learning functions.
For those who begin using marijuana as teenagers, these impairments are more likely as the brain is still developing at that time. A study conducted in New Zealand found that those who started heavily smoking in their teens lost an average of 8 IQ points between the ages of 13 and 38. There are also several physical effects aside from what marijuana does to the brain including increased heart rate and breathing problems such as a daily cough and more frequent lung illnesses.
Cocaine is a central nervous system stimulant that like other drugs, works by increasing the levels of dopamine in the brain. It works on a specific part of the brain called the ventral tegmental area and disrupts the dopamine neurotransmitters. When dopamine is released naturally by the body, it recycles back into the cell that it was released by and shuts off the signal from the nerve cell. Cocaine prevents the dopamine from recycling which causes the dopamine to build up and flood, causing the user to feel “high”. Cocaine also disrupts serotonin and increases the levels of norepinephrine which is responsible for the body’s fight or flight response. Other effects can include increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, hypersensitivity, hyperactivity, hyper stimulation, erratic behavior, irritability, and paranoia.
In large doses, violent behavior has been observed. Long term effects depend on the amount and method of use but can include nosebleeds, loss of sense of smell, bowel decay, restlessness, and malnutrition. Unlike other drugs, the body goes into immediate withdrawal once the dopamine levels normalize, about an hour or so after the last use. When used long term the body begins to produce less and less dopamine and serotonin on it’s on and starts to rely on the cocaine to produce them. Once the user stops using, they may experience depression and anxiety due to dopamine and serotonin deficiency.
Contact Clearbrook Today
Your brain won’t literally fry like an egg from drug use, but there many negative effects, none of which are worth a temporary high. Please don’t wait until permanent damage is done.
If you or someone you know is struggling drug addiction or alcoholism, help is available. For 45 years, Clearbrook Treatment Centers has been providing quality treatment to the chemically dependent person. Please contact our Admissions Specialists today and let us show you how Clearbrook can help.