l dopa

A Collection Of Books By Neurologist Oliver Sacks

If you’re interested in neuroscience or psychology, I’d highly reccomend any book by Oliver Sacks! I get asked a lot about books to read so you can also check out this video I made with my top 7 and this masterpost which includes websites where you can learn more!

1. Migrane

For centuries, physicians have been fascinated by the many manifestations of migraine, and especially by the visual hallucinations or auras- similar in some ways to those induced by hallucinogenic drugs or deliria–which often precede a migraine. Dr. Sacks describes these hallucinatory constants, and what they reveal about the working of the brain. 

2. Awakenings

Awakenings is the remarkable account of a group of patients who contracted sleeping-sickness during the great epidemic just after World War I. Frozen in a decades-long sleep, these men and women were given up as hopeless until 1969, when Dr. Sacks gave them the then-new drug L-DOPA, which had an astonishing, explosive, “awakening” effect. Dr. Sacks recounts the moving case histories of these individuals, the stories of their lives, and the extraordinary transformations they underwent with treatment.

3. The Island of The Color Blind

Oliver Sacks has always been fascinated by islands, and this book is an account of his work with an isolated community of islanders born totally colorblind.  He listens to these achromatopic islanders describe their colorless world in rich terms of pattern and tone, luminance and shadow.

4. Uncle Tungsten

A book about Sacks’ childood;  his discovery of biology, his departure from his childhood love of chemistry and, at age 14, a new understanding that he would become a doctor.

5. An Anthropologist on Mars

This book talks about 7 seemingly paradoxical neurological conditions: including a surgeon consumed by the compulsive tics of Tourette’s Syndrome except when he is operating; an artist who loses all sense of color in a car accident, but finds a new sensibility and creative power in black and white; and an autistic professor who has great difficulty deciphering the simplest social exchange between humans, but has built a career out of her intuitive understanding of animal behavior. 

6.  Seeing Voices

 A journey into the world of deaf culture, and the neurological and social underpinnings of the remarkable visual language of the congenitally deaf. Sacks writes “The existence of a visual language, Sign, and the visual intelligence that goes with its acquisition, shows us that the brain is rich in potentials we would scarcely have guessed of, shows us the almost unlimited resource of the human organism when it is faced with the new and must adapt.”

Molecule of the Day: Dopamine

Dopamine (C8H11NO2) is an important neurotransmitter involved in many signalling pathways in the body. At room temperature, it is a white powder that is freely soluble in water.

Dopamine plays a key role in the brain’s reward system and is associated with feelings of euphoria and pleasure. As a result, stimuli that cause greater amounts of dopamine to bind to the corresponding receptors on the post-synaptic membrane induce appetitive behaviour.

For example, drugs such as amphetamine bind to and inhibit dopamine reuptake transporters present on the pre-synaptic membrane, and can also inhibit monoamine oxidase, which normally metabolises dopamine. This causes the concentration of dopamine in the synaptic cleft to increase, and the resultant rise in binding of dopamine receptors leads to feelings of pleasure. However, in combination with the resultant tolerance, this can lead to addiction and dependence on such drugs.

Dopamine is biosynthesised from tyrosine in the human body, via the intermediacy of L-DOPA:

Low dopamine levels have been linked to Parkinson’s disease; this is because the main symptoms arise from the death of dopamine-producing cells in the brain. Consequently, one of the main methods of treating it is the injection of L-DOPA; while this does not recover the cells’ ability to produce dopamine, it can stimulate the remaining cells, and is also metabolised to form dopamine (see above).

From the book Awakenings by Oliver Sacks. Sacks worked with Encephalitis lethargica patients living at the Mt. Carmel chronic hospital where they had been living for decades, largely forgotten about by the outside world.

Intrigued but the bizarre nature of their condition and its mysterious origin, he became convinced these people were not beyond reach. Sacks treated them with high doses of an experimental Parkinson’s drug called L-DOPA. Amazingly, the patients responded by “awakening” from their lost states. They seemed fully aware and seemingly cured.

Unfortunately, the initial positive reactions were marred by increasingly serious side effects. Once the medicine was stopped, as many chose to do, those treated quickly fell back into their statuesque slumber. 

Some, regardless of side effects, were also unable to reconcile the years they lost and the youth that went with them The patient above, Rose, chose to return to her former condition as she found it to hard to live in the present. She had not been well since the 1920′s, when the disease struck her as a young woman. 

Dopamine, Methamphetamines, and You

First things first – What does dopamine do anyway?
1) Dopamine is critical to the way the brain controls our movements. Not enough dopamine – can’t move, or control our movements well. Too much dopamine? Uncontrollable/subconscious movements (like picking, tapping, repetitive moments, jerking, twitching). Remember that the heart is a muscle, too, and too much dopamine will result in increased pulse and blood pressure.

2) Dopamine controls the flow of information from other areas of the brain, especially memory, attention and problem-solving tasks. This becomes important when we talk about amphetamine-induced psychosis that is common in meth abusers.

3) When dopamine is released it provides feelings of enjoyment and reinforcement to motivate us to do, or continue doing, certain activities. Dopamine is released by naturally rewarding experiences such as food and sex. This pre-programmed reward system makes sure that people do eat, do desire to procreate, and basically survive. Without enough dopamine, people feel the opposite of enjoyment and motivation – they feel fatigued and depressed, and experience a lack of drive and motivation.

How do brain chemicals like Dopamine work?
Brain chemicals, including Dopamine, are stored in cells, which you can think of like barrels full of that chemical. When something occurs like a good meal or great sex the brain pours out some dopamine from the dopamine barrels into an open space in the brain called a synapse. It floats around there. Think of the synapse like a street, and dopamine is like little cars driving around aimlessly on the street.

Across the street (not far) from the barrels of dopamine are Dopamine receptors. These receptors have little parking spaces on them that only fit Dopamine (or a substance VERY similar in chemical shape to Dopamine) into them, like a lock and key. As the Dopamine floats around in the synapse, it finds parking spaces at Dopamine receptors, and “plugs in” to the receptors. THIS is the point where we feel good, when the Dopamine is parked in a receptor’s parking space. There are, however, a limited number of receptors with “Dopamine only parking” available, and each receptor has a limited number of parking spaces. So some of the dopamine may not be able to find a place to park.

When all the parking spaces are taken, the remaining dopamine that didn’t find a place to park is normally recycled. There are “reuptake molecules” that do this – think of them like tow trucks. They find the extra dopamine, and tow it back to the barrels of Dopamine so that it can be re-used the next time. After some time has passed, the receptors release the Dopamine that was parked in their parking spaces, and the tow trucks take those Dopamine molecules back to the barrel too.

The brain has a safety-check system that will destroy any excess Dopamine that isn’t in a parking space, and didn’t get picked up by the tow truck. There are special chemicals in our brains that will break down this extra dopamine. Think of this like the toxic waste crew coming in and sweeping up the street.

As a last resort, after repeated long-term over-stimulation, the brain will shut down Dopamine receptors so that nothing can park there ever again. Think of this like the demolition team coming in and permanently barricading off the driveways.

This is your brain on Meth!
So now that we have a basic understanding of how things work normally, I’ll try to explain how things work when meth is ingested.

When someone eats, snorts, injects, or otherwise gets meth into their system, meth stimulates those barrels of Dopamine to pour out Dopamine. Meth continues to tell the cells to pour out dopamine until the body can break down the meth, which is typically 12 hours or so.

So Dopamine is poured out into the synapse (street) and finds parking spaces at dopamine receptors and makes the user feel high.

But meth is a tricky little chemical. It is shaped closely enough to Dopamine that the tow trucks get confused, and pick up meth thinking that it is dopamine. So the tow trucks are busy driving around hijacked by meth molecules leaving the extra Dopamine molecules floating around in the street (synapse). Well… that means the toxic waste crew comes in and destroys that dopamine that did not get recycled. So for the 12 hours or so it takes for the body to break down the meth, it is also spending that time destroying dopamine.

As long as the user keeps ingesting more meth, this process continues until there is not enough dopamine left to feel high from. When the user finally stops using, and the brain breaks down the meth molecules, the recycle trucks try to salvage what dopamine there is left, while the user crashes.

The end result of a “run” or “binge” on meth is a marked decrease in the amount of dopamine left in the brain. This leaves the user feeling exhausted, hungry, depressed, possibly suicidal and definitely unmotivated. They are literally suffering from a brain chemical imbalance. Self-inflicted mental illness.

How can the brain ever be normal again?
Well, luckily, the human body is pretty resilient. We do have the ability to make replacement dopamine. However, the body was not designed to need to do this in large quantities or in quick supplies. So we don’t have a mass-production plant making dopamine. It’s a 3 to 4 step process, too.

The process: Phenylalanine –> Tyrosine –>L-dopa –> Dopamine

Phenylalanine is the first “pre-cursor”. It can be found in the following foods: soybean protein, frozen tofu, dried and salted cod, shellfish, lean meat, organ meat, skin-free chicken, cheese, milk, eggs, many seeds (watermelon, fenugreek, roasted soybean nuts), and chocolate. Equal artificial sweetener also contains Phenylalanine. The body can turn Phenylalanine into Tyrosine.

Tyrosine can also be found in food. This would eliminate the need for the body to synthesize it from Phenylalanine. One step closer to dopamine! Meat, dairy, eggs as well as almonds, avocados and bananas are good sources of Tyrosine.

From there, the body will convert Tyrosine into L-Dopa, and then on to Dopamine (and other neurotransmitters like norepinephrine).

So… to replace dopamine destroyed while high on meth, the recovering user must eat sources of Phenylalanine or Tyrosine.

To aid the body in making Dopamine, the person can use what dopamine they DO have left as often as possible. This tells the body that they need more of it. While you sleep, you use very little dopamine. Exercising, even just a walk around the block will use dopamine (remember, it controls movement). So setting a reasonable sleep schedule, and trying to get some exercise will help speed up recovery from Self-inflicted Dopamine Destruction (aka meth addiction)!

Be patient – remember, we weren’t designed to waste dopamine, we were supposed to be recycling it. The process of replenishing dopamine takes months. Studies show that recovering meth addicts who have abstained from meth use have about 80% of normal dopamine levels after 18 months of abstinence. This WILL be a long battle. It CAN be won.

What about the receptors that were destroyed?
Well, good news again. Even though those receptors can never heal or recover, the brain is able to use existing receptors and find new pathways to accomplish the same results. Some receptors will even get a home equity loan and build on extra parking spaces!

Are there any medicines that can help?
A doctor should always be consulted and included on any medication treatment for a recovering user. Many recovering addicts have found Wellbutrin (Bupropion) to be helpful after a few months of clean time. What Wellbutrin does is block some (not all) of the tow trucks for a little while so that the dopamine the person has left can be more effective. It does not, however, stimulate the barrels to pour out dopamine. The person has to have enough dopamine in their brain before Wellbutrin can help.


A clip from Awakenings (1990). This film tells the true story of Oliver Sack’s work with former Encephalitis lethargica patients living at a chronic hospital during the 1960′s. Sacks treated the then frozen patients with an experimental Parkinson’s drug, L-DOPA. Amazingly, the patients responded by “awakening” from their lost states, seemingly cured.

Unfortunately, the initial positive reactions were marred by increasingly serious side effects. Once the medicine was stopped, as many chose to do, those treated quickly fell back into their statuesque slumber.

The movie was pretty faithful to its source (Sack’s book by the same name) and its a good watch if you can track it down. Robin Williams plays Oliver Sacks and evidently the two remained friends afterwards. RIP to them both.

17 Crazy Interesting Facts About Dopamine

Originally posted by deepwintergirl

What does dopamine do? Well, at the most basic level, everything you think, do, and are is basically part of one big chemical reaction. That’s not an altogether comfortable thought for some people - but it’s the science. It’s hard to deny when you start looking into incredible brain chemicals and neurotransmitters like dopamine.

Keep reading


18:00 // Oliver Sacks on a Sunday.

We spent yesterday settling in and navigating our way from the hotel to the University of Manchester [my first time being here!]. After 52 minutes of arguing over what to have for dinner [tbh there was only one person causing issues but anyway], I thought it best to use the time at the hotel wisely and refresh myself on the introduction of L-DOPA. I’m trying to read and finish at least 1 recreational book every 2 weeks; travelling makes this a whole lot easier.  


Big Black - L Dopa