• Question: why do drugs such as marijuana or methamphetamine have the effect that they do and why do people feel strange or see hallucinations.

    Asked by Longshot-Dan on 8 Nov 2023.
    • Photo: Martin Minarik

      Martin Minarik answered on 8 Nov 2023:

      I don’t know much about these specifically, but generally, drugs often target receptors or transporters in the brain cells, making them either more or less active. Cells in the brain form many different types, each of which has specific receptors on their surface – that’s why the drugs affect only specific parts of the brain which then influence how people feel. Specifically in marijuana, the active compound called THC looks very similar to some of the neurotransmitters our brain cells use to communicate with each other, so when used, it affects how signals in our brain are processed.

    • Photo: Michael Schubert

      Michael Schubert answered on 9 Nov 2023:

      Martin has hit the nail on the head with his answer about neurotransmitters!

      Marijuana can activate neurons because of the way its THC mimics the neurotransmitters your body makes and uses. It can give your brain an “activity boost” or tell it to release extra dopamine (a chemical that stimulates your brain’s pleasure or reward centres).

      Methamphetamine doesn’t imitate a neurotransmitter. Instead, it tells your brain to release lots of natural neurotransmitters like dopamine, norepinephrine (which makes you feel more alert), and serotonin (which makes you feel good).

      Unfortunately, some of these drugs also contain or convert into toxic chemicals that can damage your brain or body. And artificially changing the way your brain works can have long-lasting effects on your ability to naturally regulate your neurotransmitters or your brain’s ability to use the neurotransmitters you make (which can harm your mood, memory, attention span, or ability to think).

    • Photo: Courtney Povey

      Courtney Povey answered on 9 Nov 2023:

      People can react differently to the same drug. This is because your genes can influence various things such as the number of receptors you have for that drug, or the way your body metabolizes it and therefore how your brain/body reacts to them.