THC and Dopamine: How Cannabis Affects the “Happy Hormone”

weed and dopamine
By Halla Mannering Updated March 8th

Fact-checked by Alexandra Arnett, MS

Medically reviewed by Dr. Brian Kessler, MD

The brain has certain chemicals in it, called neurotransmitters. These chemicals initiate specific processes, such as emotions, learning, and various biological events. One of those chemicals is dopamine. Many people associate dopamine with happiness – a hormone that can make people feel good.

Many substances alter the state of the brain, including THC. THC is the compound in cannabis responsible for the high it elicits and is different from CBD. CBD is another compound in cannabis that’s similar to THC, except it doesn’t create the same high, and its effects are often less noticeable.

Both THC and dopamine can both affect the brain. These two compounds have a complex relationship, so let’s dive into this topic further.

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What is Dopamine?

Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters are chemicals in the brain that put specific processes into motion and are very important to life.1

While most people associate dopamine with happiness, there is so much more to this chemical. In reality, dopamine plays a role in reward, which can impact the brain’s ability to learn and form habits. Dopamine can affect memory, motivation, mood, movement, and even attention.

When dopamine levels in the body are altered, there can be a variety of different effects. Individuals with low levels of dopamine may experience changes in their sex drive and memory and may feel tired or depressed. Just as low dopamine levels can have various effects, so can high amounts of dopamine. Individuals with high levels of dopamine may feel euphoric, have a high sex drive, and even have trouble sleeping.

Consider contacting a doctor if you think your dopamine levels may need to be more balanced. Dopamine levels can significantly impact your mental and physical health, so it’s essential to ensure your dopamine levels are healthy. 

Understanding the vital role of dopamine can provide you with deeper insight into the brain and even the effects cannabis can have on it. Learning more about THC and dopamine can give you important information, so let’s dive further into this topic.

What is THC?

THC and dopamine effect

Cannabis is a plant that has a variety of different compounds in it. These compounds are referred to as cannabinoids, and there’s a system in the body known as the endocannabinoid system that these compounds can interact with to produce their effects. The endocannabinoid system is the reason why cannabis can elicit the effects that it does in the body, so it’s an important thing to learn about.

Anandamide is a type of lipid that interacts with the brain. This lipid binds to endocannabinoid receptors throughout the body and is known for producing a euphoric feeling.2

THC is perhaps the most commonly known compound that naturally exists in cannabis. THC produces the high that many people know cannabis for.  This compound may induce a variety of benefits in the body, including inducing sleep, relaxation, and reduced stress.3 Many people use cannabis to get the potential benefits of THC.

THC is similar to anandamide in that it can create both happy and euphoric feelings. While there hasn’t been much research on anandamide, it does bind to the same CB1 endocannabinoid receptors in the brain as THC; although, it doesn’t produce the same high.

Does THC Increase Dopamine?

Understanding what can impact your dopamine levels is important. Is THC one of those things? 

It is possible that THC can increase dopamine levels in the short term and may decrease dopamine levels when cannabis is used chronically.4 The effects of cannabis and altered dopamine levels, such as changes in memory and sex drive, can be very similar. Because of this, it can be difficult to pinpoint whether specific effects are due to changes in dopamine or cannabis use (or both).

If you only use cannabis sparingly, you may experience a temporary increase in dopamine when you’re high. However, if you use cannabis frequently, it’s not possible to predict the effects that it could have on your dopamine system.5 Because of this, there’s a significant need for more research to learn about the combination of cannabis and dopamine.

Does Weed Decrease Dopamine Levels?

weed and dopamine

The relationship between weed and dopamine is a complicated one. It’s not possible to make statements about dopamine and cannabis because the effects of these two depend on a variety of factors, including length of use and dosage.

There has been some research that has found chronic cannabis users have lower levels of dopamine release.2 The best way to avoid this may be only to use cannabis sparingly and to think about the dosage that you’re consuming when you do use it.

It isn’t possible to know how someone will react to cannabis use. There is a significant need for more research to be done to examine the effects of cannabis use on dopamine levels. Just as with THC, there is a need for more research to understand CBD and dopamine. It’s likely that CBD doesn’t have adverse effects on dopamine levels, but there hasn’t been significant research that has examined this area.

THC and Dopamine: Untangling a Complicated Relationship

It’s difficult to give definitive answers about the relationship between dopamine and THC. Length of use and dosage are likely the two most significant factors when it comes to understanding how cannabis can impact the body’s natural dopamine levels.

If you only use cannabis occasionally, then it’s likely that you may have temporarily increased dopamine levels. However, if you use cannabis frequently, it may have the opposite effect on your dopamine levels. One of the best ways to make sure that your dopamine levels are not being impacted is to take a tolerance break. A tolerance break is a period when you abstain from using cannabis to give your body a chance to reset and return to its natural state.

The relationship between THC and dopamine is complicated. There is a need for more research to examine this relationship and learn more about the effect that it can have on the brain. If you use cannabis chronically and notice adverse effects, consider speaking with your doctor about your natural dopamine levels and ways to return them to a balanced state.

Potential Medical Applications of THC on Dopamine

cannabis and dopamine

Dopamine is an essential chemical; some people don’t realize how powerful it can be. When the body’s natural dopamine levels are disrupted, a variety of medical conditions can result. While dopamine levels can significantly impact mental health, physical symptoms can also result from lowered or heightened dopamine levels.

There are certain conditions, such as depression, that can benefit from increasing dopamine levels.6 Interestingly, other conditions associated with altered dopamine levels can also be affected by cannabis use, like Parkinson’s. Choosing cannabis may be a good way to increase your dopamine levels temporarily, but it’s unlikely that it would have positive long-term effects on your dopamine levels.

If you’re unsure whether cannabis may help your symptoms, consider speaking with your doctor. Your doctor will be able to point you in the right direction and make sure that you’re doing things that will benefit your dopamine levels. While changing dopamine levels isn’t the right choice for everyone, some may benefit.

While increasing your dopamine levels can be positive for some, it’s not always the right choice. Some conditions can result from, or be worsened by, increased dopamine levels. The same goes for cannabis use, as the use of cannabis can worsen some pre-existing conditions. 

If you have mental health struggles, such as psychosis, you should speak with a medical or mental health professional before using cannabis. This is the best way to be sure that you’re on the right track and staying as safe as possible. It’s not possible to predict how someone will react to cannabis, so it’s important to be aware of the risks and the effects that it can cause.

Dopamine can affect the body’s movement, which is one of the reasons why it’s being examined regarding Parkinson’s disease, both as a potential treatment and as a possible way to help slow the progression.7
THC can impact a variety of different chemicals in the brain, including dopamine.8 It’s likely that dopamine levels increase temporarily after occasional use, but chronic cannabis use may experience a negative impact on the dopamine system overall. There is a need for more research to examine this principle and understand the different effects of cannabis on the brain.

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  1.  Sheffler ZM, Reddy V, Pillarisetty LS. Physiology, Neurotransmitters. StatPearls. Published May 2023. Accessed October 15, 2023.
  2.  Scherma M, Masia P, Satta V, Fratta W, Fadda P, Tanda G. Brain activity of anandamide: a rewarding bliss?. Acta Pharmacol Sin. 2019;40(3):309-323. doi:10.1038/s41401-018-0075-x
  3.  National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Health and Medicine Division, Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice. Therapeutic Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids. In: The Health Effects of Cannabis and Cannabinoids: The Current State of Evidence and Recommendations for Research. National Academies Press (US); 2017.
  4.  Bloomfield MA, Ashok AH, Volkow ND, Howes OD. The effects of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol on the dopamine system. Nature. 2016;539(7629):369-377. doi:10.1038/nature20153
  5.  Blum K, Khalsa JH, Jean Lud Cadet, et al. Cannabis-Induced Hypodopaminergic Anhedonia and Cognitive Decline in Humans: Embracing Putative Induction of Dopamine Homeostasis. Frontiers in Psychiatry. 2021;12. doi:
  6.  Belujon P, Grace AA. Dopamine System Dysregulation in Major Depressive Disorders. Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2017;20(12):1036-1046. doi:10.1093/ijnp/pyx056
  7.  Patel RS, Kamil S, Shah MR, Bhimanadham NN, Imran S. Pros and Cons of Marijuana in Treatment of Parkinson's Disease. Cureus. 2019;11(6):e4813. Published 2019 Jun 3. doi:10.7759/cureus.4813
  8.  Testai FD, Gorelick PB, Aparicio HJ, et al. Use of Marijuana: Effect on Brain Health: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. Stroke. 2022;53(4). doi:

The information in this article and any included images or charts are for educational purposes only. This information is neither a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional legal advice or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about laws, regulations, or your health, you should always consult with an attorney, physician or other licensed professional.

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