Human Intelligence

Can you get holes in your brain through drug use?
Answered by Cassie Rodenberg, Ian O'Neill and 1 other
  • Cassie Rodenberg

    Cassie Rodenberg

  • Ian O'Neill

    Ian O'Neill

  • HowStuffWorks


  1. Cassie Rodenberg Producer, TreeHugger

    Drugs may not drill holes actual holes through your brain, but they can turn your mental processing powers into Swiss cheese. Here’s how it works: the brain is filled with different kinds of neurotransmitters, or cells that ferry information. They make our nervous system run and function normally. A good example is a neurotransmitter called Dopamine, which fills many roles in the brain, including your motivation, cognition and punishment/reward systems.

    Neurotransmitters like Dopamine shuttle around and bind to specific receptors to communicate messages in the brain. Drugs can wreak havoc on this system in several ways – they may commit the cellular equivalent of a hostage situation and bind to receptors in the place of neurotransmitters. If this happens, neurotransmitters can’t enter or exit their receptors, and parts of your nervous system can’t communicate with your brain. Worse yet, they can thwart the chemical reactions that create neurotransmitters, your electrical messaging, in the first place.  They also may overstimulate or block receptors so that neurotransmitters can’t deliver their messages.

    If flooded or blocked, your neuron receptors can become desensitized or oversensitized to neurotransmitters like Dopamine. This means your brain isn’t recognizing or receiving the information needed to work your crucial parts of your nervous system, like those that control your emotional or motivation structures. Ultimately, you have “holes” in different parts of your mental systems, and which exact parts depend upon the kind of drug you take.

    More answers from Cassie Rodenberg »

  2. Ian O'Neill Space Producer, Discovery News

    Despite popular belief, there is no drug that can create holes in your brain. The only thing that could create a hole in your brain is physical trauma.

    Although there's no drug that can "put holes in your brain," that's not to say drugs can't cause damage to the brain. Drugs can cause a range of long-term and short-term damage. Regular drug use can lower the effectiveness of neurotransmitters (such as dopamine), so drug addicts need to take more and more of the drug to achieve the same "high." This can impact neuron function in the brain.

    Apart from impacting the chemicals in the brain in the short-term, experts know drugs cannot produce holes in the brain, but they are divided about whether someone can fully recover from extended drug use.

    brain x-ray
    (Imagemore Co., Ltd./Corbis)

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  3. Though we're not quite sure what the long-term effects of drug use and abuse are on the human brain, we do know one thing: Drugs don't really punch holes in your brain. Some reports claim that use of milder drugs can only cause negligible memory impairment; others claim that even marijuana can shrink certain sections of the brain. Conversely, a study published in "New Scientist" claimed that continued use of certain drugs can actually cause some structures in the brain to permanently grow and change. Clearly, more studies are needed to understand the real effects of drug abuse on our baffling brains.

    More answers from HowStuffWorks »

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