The Brain and Psychosis

​The brain plays a central role in the onset of psychosis. Medical research tells us that, in patients suffering from psychosis, there are changes in the structure, function and balance of chemicals in the brain

  • We don't know the exact cause of psychosis, but know that genes play an important role
  • The immediate environment is also important in the onset of psychosis, and in the persistence of symptoms

  • High levels of stress, eg losing a job, or situations charged with emotion, eg arguments at home, may spark off a psychotic episode

  • The use of drugs such as cannabis (dope), speed ('P', pure, crystal), or hallucinogenics ( LSD, mushrooms, acid, datura) can affect the chemical balance of the brain.

  • What Happens Normally?

    Information is moved around the brain, from nerve cell to nerve cell, by means of chemical substances, called neurotransmitters

  • A message travels along the nerve and when it approaches the nerve ending a neurotransmitter is released.

  • The neurotransmitter is received by the next cell

  • some of the neurotransmitter gets reabsorbed

  • When enough neurotransmitter is received by the next nerve cell the message moves forward.

    • Dopamine and Serotonin are two neurotransmitters that are important in psychosis

    • ( In reality, it is much more complicated than this, as there are more than 100 different neurotransmitters)

    • In people with psychosis, the balance between these chemicals is disturbed

    • One theory, is that in psychosis there may be too much Dopamine

    • Excess dopamine causes an overstimulation of the nerves. This means that too many messages are being sent at the same time.

    • Symptoms of psychosis, like Hallucinations and odd beliefs ( Delusions ) are thought to be related to this overstimulation

    • When the brain is overstimulated for a prolonged period, it causes the nerve cells to shut down

    • Symptoms of poor concentration and reduced motivation, may be related to this shut down

    • The treatment of psychosis involves medications that work to restore the chemical balance in the brain

    • They work by "mopping up" the excess Dopamine

    • Treatment also involves managing stress and restoring the balance in the person's environment

    More information is available on the 'Secret Life of the Brain'- This site includes much of the content of the PBS television special the Secret Life of the Brain. The graphics for the action of dopamine and the anatomy of the brain are excellent. Also talks about the impact of drugs on the brain.

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    Page last reviewed: 05 September 2013
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