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Marijuana and the Human Brain

Your brain is programmed to process pot

The recent discovery of a cannabinoid receptor system in the human brain has revolutionized research on marijuana and cannabinoids, and definitively proven that marijuana use does not have a dependence or addiction liability. Marijuana, it turns out, affects brain chemistry in a qualitatively different way than addictive drugs.

Drugs of abuse such as heroin, cocaine, amphetamines, alcohol and nicotine affect the production of dopamine, an important neurotransmitter which chemically activates switches in the brain that produce extremely pleasurable feelings. Drugs that affect dopamine production produce addiction because the human brain is genetically conditioned to adjust behavior to maximize dopamine production. This chemical process occurs in the middle-brain, in an area called the striatum, which also controls various aspects of motor control and coordination.

Dr. Miles Herkenham of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and his research teams have made the fundamental discoveries behind these findings, and finally contradicted well-known marijuana cynic Gabriel Nahas of Columbia University. Supported in the 1980s by the antidrug group Parents Research Institute for Drug Education (PRIDE), Nahas has long argued that marijuana affects the middle-brain, justifying its prohibition.

Now Herkenham and his associates have proven that marijuana has no direct effect on dopamine production in the striatum, and that most of the drug's effects occur in the relatively "new" (in evolutionary terms) region of the brain - the frontal cerebral cortex. There is now biological evidence that far from being the "gateway" to abusive drugs, marijuana is instead the other way to get high - the safe way.

Read next part THC: Dose and effect

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