We’re all well aware that taking recreational drugs can alter your perception of the world, but what are they doing to our brains to engender these feelings?
Tripping on magic mushrooms
The main psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms, psilocybin, alters the mind by calming the normal brain activity and stimulating new connections between areas of the brain that don’t usually communicate with each other. These new connections often give rise to a whole host of surreal experiences, such as hearing colours and seeing sounds, plus they also seem to have an anti-depressant effect as they calm the activity in the part of the brain that controls ego.
Spacing out on Marijuana
Look inside the brain of a marijuana smoker and you’ll see several noticeable differences to that of a non smoker, particularly in the orbitofrontal cortex, the part of the brain that’s used for processing emotions and making decisions. This would look smaller, plus the connections passing through it would be stronger and thicker. It’s believed that this reduction in size could cause the development of thicker cross-brain connections as a way to compensate for the shrinkage, although this hasn’t yet been proved.
Binging on Alcohol
We’ve all experienced the effects of drinking too much alcohol; the blurred vision, slurred speech and impaired reactions, but if you binge drink it could have a long term effect on the way your brain processes information. A recent study compared the brain activity of binge drinkers and those who drank regularly but didn’t binge. Compared to the regular drinkers, the binge drinkers exhibited significantly more activity across their brains when completing simple tasks, even though they had similar results on the task itself.
Getting high on Cocaine
Cocaine is able to enter the bloodstream and penetrate the brain within seconds, causing an intense feeling of euphoria. It does this by overwhelming the brain with dopamine, a pleasure giving chemical. During a cocaine high, our brains form memories of our pleasurable experiences together with the places and people involved in the drug taking. That’s why the desire to use it again can be triggered by being in the same place or seeing the others use it. Studies of mice have shown that repeated exposure to cocaine causes a myriad of changes in the brain cells of the prefrontal cortex, the area that helps with decision making and inhibitions.