Though we’ve long known of the anti-anxiety and anti-seizure benefits of cannabis, scientists are just beginning to mine the psychological and brain health benefits of cannabinoids, the active chemicals in cannabis and hemp. The non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD) is leading the pack in treatments for everything from schizophrenia, psychosis, and methamphetamine addiction. But how could a natural hemp oil chemical heal the brain? It all has to do with dopamine. Let’s look into what dopamine does in the brain, and how things like amphetamine addiction can upset that balance.
Dopamine & the Brain
What is dopamine?
We all know dopamine as the natural “reward” drug that makes us feel good, and there are many studies saying that food, sex, and exercise boost dopamine in the brain. However, we have recently found that dopamine isn’t the “reward” chemical it’s portrayed to be. In the ‘90s, Wolfram Schultz did a dopamine experiment. He turned on a light and then gave a drop of juice to the animal. At first, there was a dopamine response that stays in line with the “reward” theory. After awhile, once the animal started to expect that juice follows light, the dopamine response went away. Then, when they stopped giving the juice, dopamine decreased.
So what does this mean?
The theory is that dopamine levels initially raise when a rat (or a human) gets a dopamine-boosting substance like juice (or drugs). In Schultz’s study, the animal was being conditioned to expect the juice, and every time the animal received juice, dopamine levels went up. After time, that spike of feel-good chemicals levels off, even though you’re taking the same amount of drugs. Just like in the study, dopamine levels stayed the same even though the animal still drank the juice. Then, a human decides to quit and detox, the brain can’t produce as much dopamine as it did before because the receptors and the production of dopamine were messed up. The rats in the study felt the same thing when they expected juice and didn’t get it: dopamine went down.
How do amphetamines and schizophrenia affect dopamine?
It’s interesting for brain researchers because both conditions cause psychosis, which is a name for a mental illness encompassing hallucinations, delusions, and sometimes violent behavior. This can occur with schizophrenics who aren’t taking their medication, or with users of methamphetamines, PCP, and other stimulant drugs. Psychosis in the brain looks very similar in both cases, and it all has to do with those pesky neurotransmitters like dopamine.
These drugs affect dopamine the most out of all the neurotransmitters. When you take an amphetamine, all of your neurotransmitters quickly release in your brain — dopamine the most. So you have all these good feelings all at the same time, a euphoric feeling. In a normal, non-drug induced brain, neurotransmitters are released and then recycled back into the body, and the good feeling gradually fades. Amphetamines prevent these transmitters from being recycled, making the high feeling last longer. This feeling can last from 4 to 24 hours and when it finally ends, we call this a crash. The neurotransmitters are suddenly no longer being stimulated. This can lead to a host of issues such as depression or suicidal thoughts. To avoid the crash, some people continue to take the amphetamines.
So we’re really not quite sure what causes psychotic disorders, but the most accepted theory behind schizophrenia is that people who have psychotic disorders produce too much dopamine. The main evidence for this theory is because the antipsychotic medications used to treat the disorder block dopamine receptors. These medications designed to bind dopamine receptors in the brain have helped many people. The other support for this theory is because amphetamines, or drugs that increase dopamine, can cause psychotic symptoms and a paranoid state that is similar to schizophrenia.
Cannabidiol for Amphetamines
It’s crazy to consider the idea that stopping a dangerous drug can also be dangerous, but the detox from amphetamines can cause serious withdrawal symptoms. Amphetamines affect these important neurotransmitters like dopamine, meaning the high from amphetamines is intense and the comedown and withdrawal are equally as intense.
Physical withdrawal symptoms from amphetamines include:
- Cold sweats
- Depression (potentially suicidal thoughts)
These are some of the ailments that CBD and other cannabinoids have been proven to relieve. But CBD hemp oil benefits don’t end there. Not only do cannabinoids help relax the body, but cannabinoids help recycle dopamine in the body, repairing the damage done by the amphetamines. CBD and other cannabinoids slot into dopamine receptors, weaning them off the chemical and avoiding the problem of dropping dopamine levels.
CBD Hemp Oil for Schizophrenia
So here’s the truth: we don’t know exactly what causes schizophrenia. There are many theories, but the main theory is that schizophrenia is caused by dopamine abnormalities in the brain. These abnormalities cause something called schizophrenia-related psychosis. This is the same psychosis that methamphetamines can cause as well. Current medicines for schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders help by blocking dopamine receptors to lower the amount of dopamine in the brain. Unfortunately, these medicines have a lot of side effects such as uncontrollable movements (tics, muscle spasms), weight gain, dizziness, low white blood count, low blood pressure, and seizures, to name a few. Many schizophrenia sufferers will also self medicate with amphetamines, compounding the problem.
New studies are finding that using cannabinoids for schizophrenia-related psychosis can be better than many current clinically effective treatments. Scientists found that “cannabidiol (CBD)… possesses promising therapeutic properties for the treatment of schizophrenia-related psychoses.“ The way they studied this was by giving rats amphetamines to mimic schizophrenia-related psychosis. The amphetamines messed up dopamine production/receptors, leading to the psychoses. Then the scientists gave the rats CBD hemp oil, and the cannabidiol repaired these dopamine pathways, helping to naturally level the dopamine levels.
CBD: The New Frontier in Mental Illness and Addiction Treatment?
Lots of current medical studies point to the same thing: the cannabinoid CBD counteracts the effects of amphetamines and schizophrenia on the dopamine pathways, allowing the brain to wean itself off drugs like methamphetamine and begin to produce natural chemicals like dopamine. This is promising news for people with schizophrenia who want to manage their mental illness without drugs that cause dangerous side effects. CBD hemp oil might also be a new treatment for addiction and withdrawal, especially of hard drugs like cocaine and methamphetamines.