First, I would like to share an experience our family had afew years ago on a safari in Africa. While on a game drivealong the Zambezi River, our ranger commented on theadrenaline grass growing along the banks. I asked himwhy he used the word “adrenaline,” and he began todrive slowly through the grass. Abruptly, he stopped thevehicle and said, “There! Do you see it?”“See what?” I asked. He drove closer, and this alsochanged the angle of the light.Then I understood. A lion was hiding in the grasswatching the river, just waiting for some “fast food” tocome and get a drink.We were sitting in an open-air Land Rover with nodoors and no windows. I then understood why it wascalled
as I felt my heart pound. My cere-bral cortex saw and deﬁned the danger, which registeredin the autonomic, or automatic, part of my nervous sys-tem. The brain, which is a very efﬁcient pharmaceuticallab, produced the chemical adrenaline, causing my heartto pound and race in preparation for survival. I was readyto run if needed (not that it would have done any goodwith the lion).We were told that if we stayed in our seats and re-mained still, the lion would look at the Land Rover as awhole and not see us as individuals. Fortunately this wasthe case for us.
A Drug Is a Drug
Interestingly, adrenaline, also called epi-nephrine, is a
we physicians use insurgery and in emergencies to start a pa-tient’s heart again when it beats too slow,or even stops. So here is the question: Isepinephrine
a drug if the brain makesit (causing the heart to pound and race),yet
a drug if the same epinephrine isgiven by a physician?Or consider dopamine. This chemicalis a close cousin to epinephrine, both ofwhich are excitatory neurotransmittersthat tell the brain to
Dopamine isimportant in the parts of our brain thatallow us to move, and when the dopa-mine-producing parts of the brain aredamaged, Parkinson’s disease results. Totreat Parkinson’s, physicians prescribe do-pamine as a drug, and it helps the patientmove again. So is dopamine a drug only ifthe pharmaceutical lab makes it, and notif the brain makes the same chemical forthe same purpose?Of course, both are drugs in everysense of the word, regardless of wherethey are produced. Pertinent to our sub- ject, it happens that both of these braindrugs are very important in human sexual-ity—and in pornography and sexual addic-tion. Dopamine, in addition to its role inmovement, is an integral neurotransmit-ter, or brain drug, in the pleasure/rewardsystem in the brain.
Disruption of Dopamine
Let’s review some of the important com-ponents of the reward system of thebrain. On the outside is the cerebralcortex, a layer of nerve cells that carryconscious, volitional thought. In the front,over the eyes, are the
. Theseareas are important in judgment, and,if the brain were a car, the frontal lobeswould be the brakes. These lobes haveimportant connections to the pleasurepathways, so pleasure can be controlled.In the center of the brain is the
. This almond-sizedarea is a key pleasure reward center, andwhen activated by dopamine and otherneurotransmitters, it causes us to valueand desire pleasure rewards. Dopamine isessential for humans to desire and valueappropriate pleasure in life. Without it,Look closer!