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Effects of Drugs on Brain Function


The effects of drugs on brain function are very difficult to determine due to a number of factors.  First, direct effects of drugs on brain function are widely used in clinical scenarios.  However, they are also commonly self-administered for non-medical reasons.  These types of drugs include caffeine, nicotine, opiates, marijuana, amphetamines, etc.

Effects of drugs on brain function are not always consistent between drug classes affecting the same neurotransmitter.  For example, a drug that mimics serotonin activity in the brain such as LSD (acid) acts very differently than drugs that enhance serotonin levels such as antidepressants (Prozac, Zoloft, etc).  Mood and behaviour are affected quite differently by this class of drug.

Effects of Drugs on Brain Function
Effects of Drugs on Brain Function


Some classes do produce similar effects of drugs on brain function.  Opiates generally follow this rule.  There are three different forms of the opiod receptor located throughout the brain and body.  These are the delta, kappa, and mu receptors.  Opiates, for example morphine, heroin, Oxycodone, oxycontin, may act on any of these three receptors.  The effects of drugs on brain function are primarily the same; pain relief and euphoria. 


The addictive effects of drugs on brain function usually arise from the activation of the body’s natural reward pathway in the brain known as the mesolimbic dopaminergic pathway.  The effects of drugs on brain function specific to this pathway are feelings of reward, desire, and euphoria.  This pathway is connected to a part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens.  These connections release dopamine which excites the nucleus.  Almost every drug abused by humans has been demonstrated to increase dopamine levels in the nucleus accumbens.  This effect of drugs on brain function is to artificially stimulate the natural reward system possibly providing one clinical reason for addiction.