Dopamine is an especially important neurotransmitter. It is often called the ‘feel good’ chemical, because it is directly responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward. Dopamine neurons are highly concentrated in a part of the brain called the nucleus accumbens, which is sometimes referred to as the brain’s reward center.
Just like caffeine, alcohol, tobacco and cocaine, use of marijuana is associated with a release of dopamine. The temporary rise in dopamine levels is responsible for the euphoria that users of marijuana and other substances experience.
While marijuana is similar to other drugs when it comes to raising dopamine levels, the way it works is somewhat unique.
Chemicals in marijuana, called cannabinoids, indirectly increase dopamine by blocking the action of another neurotransmitter called GABA. GABA normally acts to dampen the amount of dopamine released in the nucleus accumbens. However, when GABA is blocked by marijuana compounds, such as THC, the result is an increase in the amount of dopamine released.