Recreational Substance Use and Neurotransmitters

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The NEI Connection

Nervous system imbalances can lead to cravings, such as the desire to abuse recreational substances.   However, engaging in recreational substance use can also lead to changes in nervous system function and ultimately nervous system imbalances.

A number of neurotransmitters have been implicated in patients who engage in recreational substance use.   Glutamate, dopamine, serotonin, acetylcholine and norepinephrine have all been shown to contribute to cravings and urges through their respective roles in the pleasure and reward pathways of the nervous system.

It is important to recognize that recreational substance use can impact neurotransmitters, and psychological and physiological effects of recreational substance use are mediated by changes in the nervous system.  A brief overview of  some of the effects on neurotransmitter systems is listed here and additional resources can be found below.


  • Binds GABA receptors as an agonist
  • Blocks glutamate receptors ( antagonist)
  • Increases dopamine release

Cannabis (marijuana)

  •  THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) binds…

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