Cannabis Science

Does Weed Cause Low Dopamine?

woman with her back against the wall

There’s no doubt that weed affects your hormones. For example, for most stoners, being high feels excellent. That’s because weed causes our body to release certain hormones, such as dopamine. However, scientists are finding that weed and dopamine have a complicated relationship. Does weed cause low dopamine or do the exact opposite? Here’s what we know. 

Photo: Unsplash

What is Dopamine?

Dopamine, according to WebMD, is a neurotransmitter and plays a role in how we feel pleasure. In addition to pleasure, dopamine plays a role in planning, focus, motivation, sleep, and many other functions. However, we will focus the most in this article on dopamine’s involvement in our reward system. 

Having too much or too little dopamine can cause problems. For example, WebMD says too much dopamine in some areas of the brain are responsible for some symptoms of schizophrenia such as delusions. However a lack of dopamine in other areas results in a lack of motivation. 

Does Weed Affect Dopamine?

Yes, hitting a bong, blunt, edible or dab can release dopamine. 

The National Institute on Drug Abuse says tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the cannabinoid responsible for your high, can lead to the production of dopamine. THC does this by stimulating the neurons in the brain’s reward system to release the hormone. 

Medical News Today agrees and says that several animal studies have shown “marijuana use initially raises dopamine levels, fueling a sense of reward.”

THC causes a release of dopamine at higher levels than normal. Doing this can encourage the brain to repeat this behavior which can lead to addiction. The interference of our reward system and release of dopamine can also explain other addictive qualities as well. 

Even though marijuana seems to affect the dopamine system in the short term, studies point to long-term effects. For example, a 2016 study concluded that long-term usage might blunt the dopamine system. The study concluded, “Acute THC administration causes increased dopamine release and neuron activity, whereas long-term use is associated with blunting the dopamine system.”

A 2014 study concluded that among the participants, there is decreased dopamine brain reactivity in people who use marijuana heavily. 

Interestingly, marijuana isn’t the only substance that affects the dopamine system negatively. According to, people who use cocaine and alcohol heavily produce far less dopamine in their brain when compared to people who aren’t addicted.

However, the difference between marijuana and other substances is that marijuana doesn’t affect how much dopamine is produced. says that people who use marijuana heavily do not have less dopamine than people who don’t. However, it doesn’t seem like their body knows what to do with it.  So, does weed cause low dopamine? The research says no.

Gaps in the Research

The relationship between the dopamine system and marijuana needs more research because there are lingering questions. 

Medical News Today says there needs to be more animal research done. Prof. Oliver Howes of the Medical Research Council (MRC) Clinical Sciences Center was quoted in Medical News Today saying, “…..animal studies are needed to understand the effects of long-term cannabis use on the developing brain in a controlled way that is not possible in human studies.”

As Howes also stated, the techniques used in these animal studies must be able to “translated to human studies.”

In addition to that,, says using weed may cause dull feelings of pleasure in circumstances where other people may feel pleasure. In addition to that, people who smoke, according to the article, may feel more irritable and crummy. 

However, posed a great question: whether marijuana really blunts the dopamine system or not. They’re inquiring whether or not people who use marijuana heavily already had a blunt dopamine system or developed due to marijuana. They’re not yet able to determine cause and effect. 

In addition to that, pointed out that the research didn’t conclude anything for recreational users. They are referring specifically to the 2014 study we referenced above. Paul Stokes, a psychiatrist at Imperial College London, was quoted by as saying, “[the results] probably tells you more about cannabis dependence than about recreational use.”

However, Stokes told that he found similar effects when they conducted a similar brain imaging study In his study, the participants didn’t smoke weed more than once a week but dopamine was affected in a similar way.

To answer all of these questions and to fill these gaps, we need more research. 

How to Increase Dopamine

According to Healthline, symptoms of low dopamine include decreased motivation and enthusiasm. If you feel like you’re low on dopamine, Healthline says you can try:

  • Eating more probiotics and proteins
  • Reducing the amount of saturated fat in your diet
  • Eating velvet beans but not too many because they’re toxic in high amounts
  • Getting adequate amount of sleep
  • Exercising frequently 
  • Getting enough sunlight
  • Meditating 
  • Listening to music

If you’re still experiencing decreased motivation, enthusiasm and other symptoms of low dopamine, you can see your doctor. 


Does weed cause low dopamine? Research suggests that heavy long-term marijuana users produce the same amount of dopamine, but their bodies don’t know what to do with it. Therefore, they may experience unpleasant symptoms like feeling irritable. Research also shows that long-term heavy marijuana use may cause a blunting of the dopamine system. On the other hand, weed also causes dopamine to be produced by the body when used, which can lead to addiction due to the amount of dopamine produced. In conclusion, more research is needed. 


About Trevann

Trevann is Stoner Rotation’s Jamaica-based lead writer for the Science section of our cannabis blog. She graduated with honors receiving her Bachelor of Science degree in Molecular Biology from the University of West Indies, Mona. For the last three years, she has covered some of the biggest questions around cannabis and health underpinned with research from supporting studies, medical journals and scholarly articles. Got something on your mind? You can reach her at [email protected].