Pot can relax you, no doubt about it. Problem is, it might be relaxing you too much, prompting you to feel lethargic and unmotivated, a new study shows.
Scientists at Imperial College London, UCL and King’s College London found that regular marijuana users who smoke weekly produce less dopamine—a feel-good chemical in the brain that’s linked to motivation—than non-users.
Using PET brain imaging, the researchers looked at the dopamine production in of the two groups. While the researchers assumed dopamine levels would be higher in regular pot users (because of the mood-altering, euphoric effects of the drug), they were surprised to learn that the opposite was true. In fact, people who demonstrated signs of cannabis abuse or dependence had the lowest dopamine levels, as compared with infrequent pot smokers, which can cause them to feel a strong decrease in motivation and sometimes depression, the researchers say.
“Long-term regular marijuana use seems to have a [strong] effect on brain chemistry,” says Michael Bloomfield, Ph.D., lead author of the study. “After a period of time, your brain cells aren’t able to make as much tyrosine hydroxylase, an important enzyme that’s a key component in making dopamine. We know that dopamine affects how the brain controls motivation and addictions; therefore our study provides a scientific explanation as to the reason that cannabis users seem to become less motivated.”
Cannabis is also known to have long-lasting psychological effects, such as depression and schizophrenia, and researchers say this could be partially due to the same dopamine drop. “The younger people are when they first use the drug, particularly during teenage years when the brain is still developing, the higher the risk of having mental health problems later on,” says Bloomfield
If you’ve been trying to scale back on the bud and are feeling a bit…unmotivated, call in some help. Visit marijuana-anonymous.org to join a support group, or contact a physician.
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