How Does Marijuana Affect Dopamine

How Does Marijuana Affect Dopamine

In the quest to understand how the use of weed affects mental health, it is necessary to understand tetrahydrocannabinol effects on the brain.  The interaction between marijuana and endorphins is the key to unlocking this puzzle. Endorphins are hormones secreted by the brain and the nervous system, which have some physiological roles. These hormones include serotonin and dopamine. Long term use of marijuana does affect dopamine levels in the body, which manifests in symptoms we shall look at later.

What is Dopamine?

Dopamine is a natural biochemical of the neurotransmitter category. As a neurotransmitter, dopamine’s role is to send signals from the brain to the body and vice versa. The particular messages that dopamine sends across the brain and body are mostly on issues to do with reward.

Watering in the mouth before a meal, sexual arousal, among others, occur due to the release of dopamine. Given all the things that the hormone does in the body, having balanced dopamine levels is critical for your general wellbeing.

The Link Between Cannabis and Dopamine

Weed has two primary cannabinoids, which connect with the endocannabinoid system; Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD). THC and dopamine have a particularly important relationship. When it gets into the brain, it affects dopamine levels both in the short term and in the long term.

So, how does THC work? Does weed release dopamine? When THC gets to the brain, it connects with anandamide, a cannabinoid receptor in the endocannabinoid system. Not all marijuana – neurotransmitter relationships are the same. The relationship varies from one neurotransmitter to the other.  

As it happens, dopamine is one of the biochemicals without cannabinoid receptors. This means that unlike the case with serotonin and weed,   THC and anandamide do not connect on dopamine, and any cannabis – dopamine effect can only be indirect.  

Here is how it works. The brain releases a hormone called GABA to regulate the levels of dopamine in its reward pathways. Thus when GABA neurons are working uninhibited, dopamine levels in the brain remain within a specific limit.  

GABA, unlike dopamine, has cannabinoid receptors. When you smoke marijuana, THC gets into the brain and binds to the cannabinoid receptors in GABA. Once bound by THC, GABA is not able to work as effectively as it works when uninhibited. 

As a result, the release of dopamine is no longer regulated. This lack of inhibition leads to an increase of the hormone in the reward paths of the brain. Seeing the effects of GABA in this equation helps you know why the answer to the question, “does marijuana increase dopamine?” is no.

How Does Marijuana Affect Dopamine


Marijuana is one of the illegal drugs that increase dopamine. Increase of dopamine units after using weed results from the marijuana mechanism of action. In the short term, using weed causes the user happiness, increases their appetite, and reduces nausea, among others. When one becomes a chronic user and uses over a long time, there is not only a reversal of the short term effects, but effects move to the other extreme.  Let’s take a closer look at both for a better understanding.

Short Term

A study conducted in 1997 by author French showed that THC manipulated dopamine-producing neurons in the midbrain, which caused increased dopamine production. The same effects have been discovered in humans in recent studies

As part of his 1997 research, French studied the effects of CBD on dopamine production and found no evidence that CBD leads to an increase of dopamine in the brain’s reward pathways.

Long Term

Long term marijuana usage has, in many instances, manifested as deterioration of the user’s mental health leading to the question, “does weed kill your brain cells?” Researchers have only recently put together the necessary body of research on the matter. Weed reduces the level of dopamine in the prefrontal cortex that is responsible for essential functions such as decision making, memory, planning, and focus.

A 2016 study by Prof Olive Howes showed that long term usage of weed increases nerve firing, and it reduces the brain’s ability to synthesis dopamine due to the destruction of the brain’s dopamine receptors. Outwardly, these are what we know of weed burnout symptoms.  


The importance of dopamine in the correct function of the body can’t be gainsaid.  After reading this, you are probably wondering, “Do dopamine receptors grow back?” The answer is yes. They may return to normal levels after long periods of abstinence from drug use. 

There are benefits to using marijuana, and you probably have to use it to manage symptoms of cancer, anxiety and depression, sleeplessness, and it is suitable for general wellness. The safest way to reap these benefits is by avoiding THC and focus on CBD products. CBD products come packaged as gummies, capsules, vape oils, among others.

Dwight K. Blake Written by: Dwight K. Blake

Dwight was a Mental Health counselor at Long Island Psychotherapy & Counseling in Westbury, New York for more than 15 years. He believes that CBD is the prime solution to this mental illness and more-- with proper research, medical acknowledgment, and application.
Through his work at AmericanMarijuana, together with the rest of the team, he wishes to provide everyone with genuine results and high-quality product reviews for everyone to enjoy for free.

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