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article imageLong-term marijuana use might kill motivation from lower dopamine

By Kathleen Blanchard     Jul 1, 2013 in Science
Researchers at the Imperial College London, UCL and King’s College London have found long-term cannabis users have lower levels of the chemical dopamine in the brain that is necessary for motivation.
Dopamine, which has several roles in the body and acts like a signal to other brain cells, was found to be lower in people who smoked marijuana regularly and who started at a younger age.
The researchers say the finding came as a surprise. Because dopamine is linked to psychosis, they expected the chemical to be higher in long-term marijuana users.
The study only looked cannabis users who experienced psychotic episodes such as strange body sensations or feeling like they were being watched or threatened by an unknown entity.
Study participants had their first marijuana experience between age-12 and 18.
Dr Michael Bloomfield, from the Institute of Clinical Sciences at Imperial who led the study said in a press release, “The results weren't what we expected, but they tie in with previous research on addiction, which has found that substance abusers – people who are dependent on cocaine or amphetamine, for example – have altered dopamine systems.
Bloomfield said”…we think the findings would apply to cannabis users in general, since we didn't see a stronger effect in the subjects who have more psychotic-like symptoms”. He adds, that theory does need more testing.
He adds the finding might explain the controversial "amotivational syndrome" described among people who smoke marijuana, though whether that even exists is unknown.
For the study, researchers used PET scans to look at dopamine production in the brain of 19 regular cannabis users and 19 non-users who were age and gender matched.
The research does not prove marijuana smokers have less motivation than non-smokers, just to be clear. It merely shows smoking cannabis over a long period of time could be a culprit for lower dopamine levels in the brain that is responsible for keeping us motivated, aroused and feeling rewarded.
More about Marijuana, longterm use, Study, Dopamine, Motivation
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