Dr. Evan Wood from St. Paul's Hospital discusses addiction in the brain

How do opioids affect the brain and body?

Dr. Evan Wood, an addiction specialist at St. Paul’s Hospital, compares the deluge of dopamine that floods the brain after a hit of heroin to the blip the brain would get from a naturally pleasurable experience — a cold glass of water on a hot day, a satisfying meal, sex — to be a ratio of about 1,000 to one. “That’s not an exact number, but it gives a general sense of how intense the feeling is,” he explains.

Opiates are drugs that bind to the opioid receptors in the body and mimic natural “feel-good” brain opioids such as endorphins, only at a much greater level.

Opiate receptors are proteins located on the surfaces of nerve cells, or neurons. The brain works through neurons communicating with each other by releasing signalling chemicals called neurotransmitters. These chemicals attach to receptors on nearby neurons.

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