Amphetamine, Cocaine & Detrimental Rewiring of Dopamine Circuits


A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2003 found that using amphetamine and cocaine can cause long-term problems with the brain’s dopaminergic pathways.

These substances can limit the brain’s ability to change in response to experience, a process known as neuroplasticity. This can lead to impaired learning and memory formation.

The study found that the effects of amphetamine and cocaine on neuroplasticity were long-lasting, although it is uncertain if they are permanent.

These findings serve as a warning that amphetamine and cocaine can not only decrease baseline dopamine levels, but also put the brain in a state where it is unable to learn and improve itself for a period of time.


“Two substances that greatly increase dopamine, namely amphetamine and cocaine, can cause long-term problems with the dopaminergic pathways. And this is largely based on a study that was published some years ago, 2003, but still holds a lot of merit. This is a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a very high tier stringent journal. First author is Kolb, K-O-L-B, and the title of the paper pretty much tells the story. Amphetamine or cocaine limits the ability of later experience to promote structural plasticity in the neocortex and nucleus accumbens. 

Neocortex is the outer shell of the brain, more or less. And the nucleus accumbens is part of that mesolimbic dopamine pathway for motivation, drive, and reinforcement. 

Neuroplasticity, of course, is the brain’s ability to change in response to experience. And neuroplasticity is the basis of learning and memory and essentially remodeling of our neural circuitry in positive ways of all kinds. 

And this study was really one of the first to show that ingesting amphetamine and cocaine because of the high peak in dopamine that it creates and the low dopamine state, the baseline drop that it creates afterwards limits plasticity and learning subsequent to taking amphetamine and cocaine. It was, at least in this study, shown to be a long-lasting effect. I doubt it’s a permanent effect, but this should serve as a serious cautionary note that amphetamine and cocaine not only can cause a drop in baseline dopamine, but can actually put the brain into a state in which it cannot learn and modify itself to get better, at least for some period of time. ”

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