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Brain Awareness Week: Smart Brains, Sneaky Drugs

Brain Awareness Week: Smart Brains, Sneaky Drugs

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Sara Bellum
March 16, 2010

Here at NIDA, we can't learn enough about the brain. Other scientists are brain-obsessed too-there's even a Brain Awareness Week, a global campaign to spread the word about the progress and benefits of brain research. This week, people all over the world will take some time to learn about the complex and beautiful brain. So, in the spirit of the week, here's some "brain bits."

Everyone knows that your brain helps you learn-it stores information and helps you put different pieces together to draw conclusions about all sorts of things: from math problems to history essay questions to whether you like the taste of tomatoes.

The brain relies on a bunch of chemicals called neurotransmitters to get messages from one part of the brain to the other. It's pretty amazing how each neurotransmitter attaches to its own kind of receptor-like how a key fits into a lock. Messages zip through the brain on the right routes thanks to this intricate process.

Diagram of brain cells communicating.

But drugs can really mess up the brain's traffic patterns. The chemical structure of some drugs, like marijuana, imitates the structure of a natural neurotransmitter. In this way, drugs can "fool" receptors, lock onto them, and alter the activity of nerve cells.

The problem is, drugs don't work exactly the same way as the natural neurotransmitters they resemble. So a brain on drugs sends messages down wrong pathways throughout the brain. Marijuana, for example, can alter concentration and memory. Other drugs can literally reset what the brain needs to feel pleasure so that, without the drug, a person dependent on it feels hopeless and sad.

As you can see, the brain is a complex organ, worthy of its own week of honor. Learn more about your brain and the harmful effects of drugs from these resources:

Facts on Drugs: Brain & Addiction

Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction

Comments

@NIDA: who had the idea to have a brain Awareness Week? i see no point in haveing it because if your so
dumb you do drugs you are probolay to dumb to know what a brain is?

Drugs certainly do mess with neurotransmitters, but so do other 'legal' drugs like caffeine. And I really think people are stressing the effects of marijuana too much. It's got plenty of short term side effects, but it doesn't have the same long term effects, like for example Ecstasy has. That's a drug to stay away from.

good sharing thanks you
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i think drug use is being stressed too much (just on this page) like sure there are some drugs that are like REALLY bad but then there are some that are not so bad but bad XD i sound funny. but yah. woo brain awareness week :D

In our community of up to 215 people - all living clean and sober 99% of the time we find beach meetings - part time work and school often at saddle back is a good foundation to start with. [commercial like deleted per g/l]

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I have a presentation incoming week, and I am on the lookout for such information.

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It’s got plenty of short term side effects, but it doesn’t have the same long term effects, like for example Ecstasy has.
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