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How Do Psychoactive Drugs Affect The Brain

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Use And Abuse Of Stimulants

How do psychoactive drugs affect the brain?

Therapeutically, stimulants are used and/or prescribed for a variety of reasons. They are used to increase or maintain alertness to boost endurance or productivity to counteract fatigue and lethargy throughout the day to counteract abnormal states that diminish alertness or consciousness to decrease appetite and promote weight loss and to enhance concentration . Many stimulants are also capable of improving mood and relieving anxiety, and are occasionally used to treat symptoms of depression.

The euphoria produced by some stimulants leads to their recreational use, so many stimulants are either illegal or very carefully controlled in the United States. Some may be legally available only by prescription. Addiction to some central-nervous-system stimulants can quickly lead to medical, psychiatric, and psychosocial deterioration. Drug tolerance, dependence, sensitization, and withdrawal can occur after repeated use. Over time, stimulants can disrupt the functioning of the brains dopamine system, dampening users ability to feel any pleasure at all.

Categories Of Psychoactive Drugs

Psychoactive drugs are divided into three categories :

  • Depressants slow down the activity of the central nervous system , which reduces a person’s alertness, and also slows down functions such as breathing and heart rate. Examples of depressants are alcohol, heroin, cannabis, the prescription drug group of benzodiazepines and other prescription tranquilisers.
  • Stimulants increase the activity of the central nervous system, making the person more alert and aroused. Examples of stimulants are nicotine, caffeine, cocaine, ecstasy and the methamphetamines, speed and ice.
  • Hallucinogens make a person see, hear, smell or feel things that aren’t there. Examples of hallucinogens are LSD, magic mushrooms, ecstasy and cannabis.

Some drugs fall into more than one category. For example, cannabis is both a depressant and hallucinogen, while ecstasy is a stimulant and hallucinogen.

Your Brain On Psychedelics

If youve ever eaten a super-sugary donut, smoked a cigarette, or drank a really strong cup of coffee, you probably noticed its effects. These are all drugs and, like psychedelics, all produce different physiological effects when introduced to the body. Everything we consumeillegal or otherwiseaffects the brain.

But of course, different psychedelics create unique experiences and their specific interactions with the human brain can vary. Psychedelics and their effect on the brain can be classified by their chemical structure and mode of action :

  • Serotonergic hallucinogens are a class of psychedelic drugs strongly linked to the neurotransmitter serotonincommonly referred to as 5-HTwhich is linked to mood, social behavior, sexual desire, memory, sleep, appetite and digestion among many other things. Includes: LSD, psilocybin, MDMA, DMT, 5-MeO-DMT, mescaline, DOI
  • Psychedelic or dissociative anesthetics are commonly associated with distorted sensory perceptions and feelings of being disconnected from oneself and the environment . Includes: PCP, ketamine
  • Entactogens produce psychedelic-like effects, but typically dont produce hallucinogens. Entactogens are typically associated with feelings of oneness, emotional communion, and emotional relatedness. Includes: MDMA, MDE
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    In Vivo Microdialysis Findings

    In vivo brain microdialysis enables the monitoring of neurotransmitters in the extracellular brain compartment and provides information on the relationship between pharmacological manipulations, neurotransmitters release and behavior . Monitoring extracellular DA in the accumbens and striatum in animals is a useful preclinical method to identify new drugs of abuse through revealing their rewarding properties .

    The present profile of the on-and-off of extracellular DA in response to i.v. 2-DPMP, with a decisive descending phase, resembles that of DA responses to cocaine as observed in a comparable experimental design applied previously in the same research lab of Di Chiara . Amphetamine-induced extracellular DA response in the NAc shell has a slow descending phase that does not return to the basal levels within the same time scale . Thus, the present in vivo findings not only prove that 2-DPMP causes a direct dose-dependent increase in extracellular DA in the brains reward pathway, but also suggest that the mode of its action is more similar to that of cocaine. The DA response to 2-DPMP observed here may account for the high abuse potential of this drug, higher than that of cocaine .

    Summary Of Psychoactive Drugs


    Substance use disorder is defined in DSM-5 as a compulsive pattern of drug use despite negative consequences. Both physical and psychological dependence are important parts of this disorder. Alcohol, barbiturates, and benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressants that affect GABA neurotransmission. Cocaine, amphetamine, cathinones, and MDMA are all central nervous stimulants that agonize dopamine neurotransmission, while nicotine and caffeine affect acetylcholine and adenosine, respectively. Opiate drugs serve as powerful analgesics through their effects on the endogenous opioid neurotransmitter system, and hallucinogenic drugs cause pronounced changes in sensory and perceptual experiences. The hallucinogens are variable with regards to the specific neurotransmitter systems they affect.

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    What Youll Learn To Do: Explain How Drugs Affect Consciousness

    While we all experience altered states of consciousness in the form of sleep on a regular basis, some people use drugs and other substances that result in altered states of consciousness as well. This section will present information relating to the use of various psychoactive drugs and problems associated with such use. Youll also learned about other altered states of consciousness like hypnosis and meditation.

    Individualized Therapy Metabolic Differences And Potential Prescribing Approaches For The Future

    Mental illnesses contribute to more disability in western countries than all other illnesses including cancer and heart disease. Depression alone is predicted to be the second largest contributor to disease burden by 2020 . The numbers of people affected by mental health issues are pretty astonishing, with estimates that 25% of adults experience a mental health issue in any given year, and this affects not only the individual but their friends and family. One in 17 adults experiences a serious mental illness . Newer antidepressants are probably the most frequently prescribed drugs for treating mental health issues, although there is no magic bullet for treating depression or other conditions. Pharmacotherapy with psychological therapy may be the most beneficial treatment approach for many psychiatric conditions, but there are still many unanswered questions. For example, why does one antidepressant help one individual yet have no effect for another? Antidepressants can take 4 to 6 weeks to start improving depressive symptoms, and we dont really understand why. Many people do not respond to the first antidepressant prescribed and may have to try different drugs before finding something that works for them. Other people just do not improve with antidepressants . As we better understand why individuals differ, the easier and more rapidly we will be able to help people in distress.

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    Feature: Human Biology In The News

    In North America, a lot of media attention is currently given to a rising tide of opioid addiction and overdose deaths. Opioids are drugs derived from the opium poppy or synthetic versions of such drugs. They include the illegal drug heroin, as well as prescription painkillers such as codeine, morphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, and fentanyl. In 2016, fentanyl received wide media attention when it was announced that an accidental fentanyl overdose was responsible for the death of music icon Prince. Fentanyl is an extremely strong and dangerous drug, said to be 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, making risk of overdose death from fentanyl very high.

    The dramatic increase in opioid addiction and overdose deaths has been called an opioid epidemic. It is considered to be the worst drug crisis in Canadian history. Consider the following facts:

    • In 2016, there were almost 2,500 opioid-related deaths in Canada almost 7 per day.
    • The number of prescriptions written for opioids quadrupled between 1999 and 2010. If you have been prescribed codeine, fentanyl, morphine, oxycodone, hydromorphone or medical heroin, then you have been prescribed an opiate.
    • There are many long-term health effects of using opioids, which include:
    • Increased tolerance to the drug.
    • Liver damage.
    • Substance use disorder or addiction.

    What, if anything, will work to stop the opioid epidemic in Canada and the United States? Keep watching the news to find out.

    Stimulants Effect On The Brain

    How do drugs affect the brain? – Sara Garofalo

    Stimulants include illicit drugs like cocaine, and amphetamine, as well as legal drugs like caffeine and medical prescription drugs to treat ADHD.

    Like all drugs that may lead to abuse, stimulants affect the limbic reward system of the brain. Stimulants increase the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain that regulates the feelings of pleasure and alters the control of movement, cognition, motivation, and euphoria. When there are high levels of dopamine, a person will feel their mood enhances and increased motor activity. However, when there is a dopamine surge, people may become nervous, irritable, aggressive, or paranoid. Other effects of stimulants include hallucinations as well as bizarre thoughts and paranoia that approaches schizophrenia.

    Like depressants, stimulants can lead to increased tolerance, dependence, and addiction.

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    Hypothalamus Area Of The Brain And Drug Addiction

    Hypothalamus area of the brain and drug addiction. This is the section of the brain that is most affected

    Hypothalamus area of the brain and drug addiction: Stress management

    Of the components of the brain, the hypothalamus area often bears the greater risk of attack by substance abuse. This is actually the part of the brain that is responsible for several functions including body temperature regulations, hunger, thirst and sleep. Besides these functions, the hypothalamus is also task a key role of the interpretation of how we respond to stress. According to the experts at AWAREmed Health and Wellness Resource Center which is one of the leading pioneers in natural and holistic addiction treatment, we cannot effectively talk about addiction without the mention of stress. Doctor Dalal Akoury MD and also the founder of this facility agree that stress regulation is highly relevant to our understanding of addiction. And that is why we want to explore further into details the effects of addiction on the hypothalamus area of the brain alongside the regulation of stress and withdrawal.

    The Chemical Imbalance Hypothesis

    In the 1960s, researchers discovered how antipsychotics and antidepressants interfered with this messaging process, and their discoveries led to a hypothesis that mental disorders are due to chemical imbalances in the brain, which are then fixed, or put back to normal, by psychiatric drugs.

    For example, antidepressants were found to increase levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, and thus researchers hypothesized that depression was due to too little serotonin. Antipsychotics were found to block dopamine pathways in the brain, and so researchers hypothesized that schizophrenia was due to too much dopamine.

    To test these hypotheses, researchers conducted studies to determine whether people with depression had too little serotonin in their brain, or whether people with schizophrenia regularly had too much dopamine activity. Decades of research failed to provide the confirming evidence.

    In 2005, Kenneth Kendler, coeditor in chief of Psychological Medicine summed up these research findings in this succinct way: We have hunted for big simple neurochemical explanations for psychiatric disorders and have not found them.

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    A Note On The Term Narcotics

    The term narcotic originally referred medically to any psychoactive compound with sleep-inducing properties. In the United States, it has since become associated with opioids, commonly morphine and heroin and their derivatives. The term is, today, imprecisely defined and typically has negative connotations. When used in a legal context in the United States, the term narcotic drug refers to a substance that is completely prohibited, or one, such as codeine or morphine, that is used in violation of governmental regulation. From a medical standpoint, it is no longer a useful term.

    Grapefruit Juice And Metabolism

    Heroin In The Brain

    Certain types of food in the stomach can alter the rate of drug absorption, and other foods can also alter the rate of drug metabolism. The most well known is grapefruit juice. Grapefruit juice suppresses cytochrome P450 enzymes in the liver, and these liver enzymes normally break down a large variety of drugs . If the enzymes are suppressed, drug levels can build up to potentially toxic levels. In this case, the effects can persist for extended periods of time after the consumption of grapefruit juice. As of 2013, there are at least 85 drugs shown to adversely interact with grapefruit juice . Some psychotropic drugs that are likely to interact with grapefruit juice include carbamazepine , prescribed for bipolar disorder diazepam , used to treat anxiety, alcohol withdrawal, and muscle spasms and fluvoxamine , used to treat obsessive compulsive disorder and depression. A link at the end of this module gives the latest list of drugs reported to have this unusual interaction.

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    Psychoactive Drugs Things That You Need To Consider

    Since youve discovered what psychoactive drugs are and how can they affect your brains functionality, consciousness, and mood, you must know how different people respond to them. Knowing that will help you evaluate the effects of psychoactive drugs that youre taking in different forms.

    To reiterate psychoactive drugs are strong enough to alter the brain functions and the way an individual feels, perceives or understands the world around him or her.

    There is no doubt that some types of psychoactive drugs are ubiquitous, such as sedatives, opiods, cannabis, hallucinogens and tobacco. The list includes both ones that come with psychoactive effects naturally and once that are synthesized in the laboratory.

    Regardless of how they are manufactured or grown, these psychoactive drugs have a strong impact on your brain receptors.

    That is what makes considering different aspects, such as age, method of administration, setting and purity, highly important before taking them.

    What Are The Long

    While the long-term use of most dissociative drugs has not been investigated systematically, research shows that repeated use of PCP can lead to tolerance and the development of a substance use disorder that includes a withdrawal syndrome when drug use is stopped. Other effects of long-term PCP use include persistent speech difficulties, memory loss, depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and social withdrawal that may persist for a year or more after chronic use stops.

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    Effect Of Psychedelics On The Brain

    Most psychedelics work by interacting with serotonin receptors in the brain. Effects include increased breathing and heart rate, dilated pupils, dehydration, increased color perception, a state of empathetic well-being , and visual distortion: things may appear to move, shapes may appear on textures and exhibit a kaleidoscope-like effect, or lighting may dramatically change for no apparent reason.

    Psychoactive Drugs Tobacco Alcohol And Illicit Substances

    Did You Know: Synthetic Psychoactive Substances

    Context – Psychoactive drugs such as tobacco, alcohol, cannabis, amphetamines, ecstasy, cocaine, and heroin can change consciousness, mood, and thoughts. The use of these drugs imposes a substantial health burden on society.

    How do psychoactive drugs affect the brain? How does drug addiction develop and how can it be treated?

    This Digest is a faithful summary of the leading scientific consensus report produced in 2004 by the World Health Organization :

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    Construction Of The Simulated Systems

    A standard protocol was used to study these docked homology models of rat DAT based on the crystal structure of the Drosophila Melanogaster dopamine transporter with all-atom MD simulations in explicit models of the hydrated lipid membrane environment . To summarize, a multistep equilibration protocol was performed with the NAMD software, version 2.13 , to remove the close contacts in the structure, the backbones were initially fixed and then harmonically constrained, and water was restrained by small forces from penetrating the protein-lipid interface. The constraints on the protein were released gradually in three steps of 300 ps each, changing the force constants from 1 to 0.5 and 0.1 kcal/ respectively, with a time step of 1 fs. This was then followed by a short unbiased MD simulation performed with a 2 fs integration time step and under constant temperature maintained with Langevin dynamics, and 1 atm constant pressure achieved by using the hybrid Nosé-Hoover Langevin piston method on a flexible periodic cell to capture long-range effects. The simulated system, including the transporter embedded in a membrane patch and water layers on each side containing Na+ and Cl ions , was composed of approximately 149,664 atoms in a box with the final dimensions of 121 × 121 × 139 Å. After this equilibration phase, 3 each of unbiased production MD simulations were carried out using GPUS and the ACEMD software with an established protocol for a further 400 ns .

    Neurological Mechanisms Of Stimulants

    Stimulants exert their effects through a number of different mechanisms. Some stimulants facilitate the activity of certain neurotransmitters, specifically norepinephrine and/or dopamine. Others block the action of certain receptors in a process known as receptor antagonism. Still others cause action in other receptors in a process known as receptor agonism.

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    Speeding Up The Brain With Stimulants: Caffeine Nicotine Cocaine And Amphetamines

    A stimulant is a psychoactive drug that operates by blocking the reuptake of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin in the synapses of the CNS. Because more of these neurotransmitters remain active in the brain, the result is an increase in the activity of the sympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system . Effects of stimulants include increased heart and breathing rates, pupil dilation, and increases in blood sugar accompanied by decreases in appetite. For these reasons, stimulants are frequently used to help people stay awake and to control weight.

    Used in moderation, some stimulants may increase alertness, but used in an irresponsible fashion they can quickly create dependency. A major problem is the crash that results when the drug loses its effectiveness and the activity of the neurotransmitters returns to normal. The withdrawal from stimulants can create profound depression and lead to an intense desire to repeat the high.

    Nicotine is a psychoactive drug found in tobacco and other members of the nightshade family of plants, where it acts as a natural pesticide. Nicotine is the main cause for the dependence-forming properties of tobacco use, and tobacco use is a major health threat. Nicotine creates both psychological and physical addiction, and it is one of the hardest addictions to break. Nicotine content in cigarettes has slowly increased over the years, making quitting smoking more and more difficult. Nicotine is also found in smokeless tobacco.

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