Your brain on porn part 2

This is continued from your brain on porn part 1.

Adrenaline Grass

First, I would like to share an experience our family had a few years ago on a safari in Africa. While on a game drive along the Zambezi River, our ranger commented on the adrenaline grass growing along the banks. I asked him why he used the word “adrenaline,” and he began to drive slowly through the grass. Abruptly, he stopped the vehicle and said, “There! Do you see it?”

“See what?” I asked. He drove closer, and this also changed the angle of the light.

Then I understood. A lion was hiding in the grass watching the river, just waiting for some “fast food” to come and get a drink.

We were sitting in an open-air Land Rover with no doors and no windows. I then understood why it was called adrenaline grass, as I felt my heart pound. My cerebral cortex saw and defined the danger, which registered in the autonomic, or automatic, part of my nervous system. The brain, which is a very efficient pharmaceutical lab, produced the chemical adrenaline, causing my heart to pound and race in preparation for survival. I was ready to run if needed (not that it would have done any good with the lion).

We were told that if we stayed in our seats and remained still, the lion would look at the Land Rover as a whole and not see us as individuals. Fortunately this was the case for us.

A Drug Is a Drug

Interestingly, adrenaline, also called epinephrine, is a drug we physicians use in surgery and in emergencies to start a patient’s heart again when it beats too slow, or even stops. So here is the question: Is epinephrine not a drug if the brain makes it (causing the heart to pound and race), yet is a drug if the same epinephrine is given by a physician?

Or consider dopamine. This chemical is a close cousin to epinephrine, both of which are excitatory neurotransmitters that tell the brain to Go! Dopamine is important in the parts of our brain that allow us to move, and when the dopamine-producing parts of the brain are damaged, Parkinson’s disease results. To treat Parkinson’s, physicians prescribe dopamine as a drug, and it helps the patient move again. So is dopamine a drug only if the pharmaceutical lab makes it, and not if the brain makes the same chemical for the same purpose?

Of course, both are drugs in every sense of the word, regardless of where they are produced. Pertinent to our subject, it happens that both of these brain drugs are very important in human sexuality—and in pornography and sexual addiction. Dopamine, in addition to its role in movement, is an integral neurotransmitter, or brain drug, in the pleasure/reward system in the brain.

Disruption of Dopamine

Let’s review some of the important components of the reward system of the brain. On the outside is the cerebral cortex, a layer of nerve cells that carry conscious, volitional thought. In the front, over the eyes, are the frontal lobes. These areas are important in judgment, and, if the brain were a car, the frontal lobes would be the brakes. These lobes have important connections to the pleasure pathways, so pleasure can be controlled.

In the center of the brain is the nucleus accumbens. This almond-sized area is a key pleasure reward center, and when activated by dopamine and other neurotransmitters, it causes us to value and desire pleasure rewards. Dopamine is essential for humans to desire and value appropriate pleasure in life. Without it, we would not be as incentivized to eat, procreate, or even to try to win a game.

It’s the overuse of the dopamine reward system that causes addiction. When the pathways are used compulsively, a downgrading occurs that actually decreases the amount of dopamine in the pleasure areas available for use, and the dopamine cells themselves start to atrophy, or shrink. The reward cells in the nucleus accumbens are now starved for dopamine and exist in a state of dopamine craving, as a downgrading of dopamine receptors on the pleasure cells occurs as well. This resetting of the “pleasure thermostat” produces a “new normal.” In this addictive state, the person must act out in addiction to boost the dopamine to levels sufficient just to feel normal.

As the desensitization of the reward circuits continues, stronger and stronger stimuli are required to boost the dopamine. In the case of narcotic addiction, the addicted person must increase the amount of the drug to get the same high. In pornography addiction, progressively more shocking images are required to stimulate the person.

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