Natural CBD oil is the hottest wellness trend in years; esteemed for its numerous benefits for physical and mental well-being. CBD provides significant anti-anxiety, anti-stress, anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving effects, without any psychoactive effects on the brain. But does cannabidiol (CBD) oil impact our hormones? And if so, what about the ‘feel-good’ chemical dopamine?
In this article, we’ll take a look at the relationship between CBD and dopamine, alongside what dopamine is and the importance of maintaining balanced levels of the neurotransmitter in the brain and body.
What is Dopamine?
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps to control the brain’s reward and pleasure centres. Dopamine is synthesised in the brain by nerve cells and plays a role in many body functions, such as motivation, memory, sleep, concentration and mood, sending messages between the brain and your body.
Dopamine, nicknamed the “motivation molecule”, is widely regarded as the chemical that enables you to feel pleasure, satisfaction and motivation – in other words, a surge of dopamine makes you feel good!
Functions of Dopamine
As a chemical messenger, dopamine plays a role in:
- Pleasure reward & motivation
- Increases the excretion of salt and urine from the body
- Causes blood vessels to dilate (at low concentrations) or constrict (at high concentrations)
- Reduces pancreatic insulin reduction
- Slow GI movement
- Plays a role in the ‘fight-or-flight’ response
- Reduces lymphocyte (a type of white blood cell) activity in the immune system
Getting the Balance Right
Both your brain and your body need to have the right levels of dopamine to function optimally. It's widely understood that too little or too much dopamine can have a significant impact on mood, but high or low levels of dopamine are also associated with some physical and mental disorders such as depression, attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD), restless legs syndrome and Parkinson’s disease.
Low levels of dopamine are sometimes associated with addiction since surges of the hormone and the resulting ‘reward’ emotions can lead to a desire for more. For instance, gambling money and winning, receiving several ‘likes’ for a social media photo or drinking alcohol usually triggers a dopamine spike. For some people, this can lead to dopamine cravings and an overwhelming temptation to indulge in the pastime that has made them feel good - gambling, time spent on social media or consumption of alcohol, for example.
In such circumstances, healthcare professionals may attempt to increase an individual’s dopamine levels to reduce the temptation.
Can You Have Too Much Dopamine?
Yes. High levels of dopamine can cause effects such as anxiety, insomnia, stress, mania and increased energy. Too much dopamine can also cause depression, nausea, vomiting and hallucinations.
Natural, Healthy Ways to Increase Dopamine Levels
Many activities can boost dopamine levels, but not all of them are conducive to long-term health, so it’s important to focus on participating in healthy dopamine-boosting habits. Some examples are:
- Exercise regularly – exercise boosts both endorphins and dopamine
- Get plenty of sleep – this is crucial for healthy dopamine levels
- Enjoy the sunshine – Vitamin D is produced by your body when exposed to sunlight, Vitamin D increases the production of dopamine
- Listen to music – your favourite tunes trigger dopamine to be released
- Eat healthy foods – while junk foods often trigger a dopamine surge, these sugary, fatty foods can desensitise dopamine receptors in the long term
Does CBD Increase Dopamine? Or Does CBD Lower Dopamine?
While CBD has no direct impact on dopamine in the body, it has the potential to influence dopamine-sensitive receptors found in the brain, which might, in turn, trigger a dopamine boost or replenish levels in the brain. Research, unfortunately, remains in the very early stages and scientists do not understand CBD’s influence on dopamine levels in its entirety.
However, there is a significant link between the activity of the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) and dopamine levels in the brain and body, and science shows that CBD interacts closely with the ECS. Let’s take a look at how the ECS can stimulate the elevation and regulation of dopamine.
CBD, Dopamine and The ECS
When your ECS is functioning as it should, you’re more likely to have optimal dopamine levels. The ECS consists predominantly of endocannabinoids (lipid-based transmitters) and receptors and plays an important role in maintaining homeostasis. Two ECS receptors, known as CB1 and CB2, are intricately involved in the regulation of dopamine. Ultimately, the ECS can modify dopamine receptor activity while controlling the release of dopamine.
CBD has also been shown to raise levels of an endocannabinoid known as anandamide (AEA), a molecule that is involved in the regulation of dopamine and serotonin and is known as the ‘bliss compound’. As AEA levels elevate, CB1 receptors are activated; this triggers an increase in dopamine release.
While more extensive research is required, it is evident that aspects of the ECS indeed promote optimal dopamine control and release. We know that CBD oil provides a boost to the ECS by stimulating CB1 and CB2 receptors, but it is unclear whether CBD triggers elevated dopamine levels as a result. However, it is highly unlikely that CBD will lower dopamine levels.
Research also shows that CBD can be effective in remedying a variety of symptoms associated with dopamine deficiency, such as depression, anxiety and restless legs syndrome. Consequently, this may elevate dopamine levels within the brain.