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THE BRAIN'S RESPONSE TO DRUGS

THE BRAIN'S RESPONSE TO METHAMPHETAMINES

Speed, meth, chalk, crystal, ice, glass.  These are all names for the drug methamphetamine.  Meth comes in the many different forms and is snorted, swallowed, injected, or smoked.  The smokable form is known as "ice" or "crystal", due to its appearance.

Methamphetamine is a powerful drug. It acts by changing how the brain works. It also speeds up many functions in the body. It has a chemical structure that is similar to amphetamines. Meth can cause lots of harmful things, including inability to sleep, paranoia, aggressiveness and hallucinations.

HOW DOES METHAMPHETAMIES CAUSE ITS EFFECT?

No matter how methamphetamine is used, it eventually ends up in the bloodstream where it is circulated throughout the brain.  Meth can and does affect lots of brain structures, but the one it affects most are the ones that contain dopamine.  The reason for this is that the shape, size, and chemical structure of methamphetamine and dopamine are similar.

Your brain is made up of billions of nerve cells (or neurons). Neurons come in all shapes and sizes, but mostly have three important parts: a cell body that contains the nucleus and directs the activities of the neuron; dendrites, the short fibers that receive messages from other neurons and relay them to the cell body; and an axon, a long single fiber that carries messages from the cell body to dendrites of other neurons.

Axons of one neuron and the dendrites of a neighboring neuron are located very close to each other, but they don't actually touch.  Therefore, to communicate with each other they use chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters.  When one neuron wants to send a message to another neuron it releases a neurotransmitter from its own axon into the small space that separates the two neurons.  This space is called a synapse. The neurotransmitter crosses the synapse and attaches to specific places on the dendrites of the neighboring neuron called receptors. Once the neurotransmitter has relayed its message, it is either destroyed or taken back up into the first neuron where it is recycled for use again.

There are many different neurotransmitters, but the one that is most affected is dopamine. DOPAMINE IS SOMETIMES CALLED THE PLEASURE NEUROTRANSMITTER because it helps you feel good from things that you enjoy doing. When something pleasurable happens, certain axons release lots of dopamine.  The dopamine attaches to receptors on dendrites of neighboring neurons and passes on the pleasure message.  This process is stopped when dopamine is released from the receptors and pumped back into the neuron that released it where it is stored for later use.


METHAMPHETAMINE CHANGES THE BRAIN

Usually neurons recycle dopamine. But methamphetamine is able to fool neurons into taking it up just like they would dopamine.  Once inside a neuron, meth causes that neuron to release lots of dopamine.  All this dopamine causes the person to feel an extra sense of pleasure that can last all day. But eventually these pleasurable effects stop.  They are followed by unpleasant feelings called a "crash" that often lead a person to use more of the drug.  If a person continues to use meth, they will have a difficult time feeling pleasure from anything.

METH HAS LOTS OF OTHER EFFECTS

Because it is similar to dopamine, meth can change the function of any neuron that contains dopamine.  And if there weren’t enough, meth can also affect neurons that contain two other neurotransmitters called serotonin and norepinephrine.  All of this means that meth can change how lots of things in the brain and body work. Even small amounts of meth can cause a person to be more awake and active, lose their appetites, and become irritable and aggressive.  Meth also causes a person's blood pressure to increase and their heart to beat faster.

 

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Start Date
Oct 26, 2008
by carr
Last Revision
Oct 26, 2008
by carr
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