We all know that drugs can have a significant effect on the brain. But did you know that some medications can actually increase neuroplasticity? Let’s take a look at drugs that increase neuroplasticity and the positive effects they can have.
What Is Neuroplasticity?
First, we should define neuroplasticity, as it’s not a term everyone knows. Neuroplasticity, also known as brain plasticity or neural plasticity, is when neural networks in the brain adapt by growing and reorganizing. Broken down into simple terms, it’s basically the brain learning to rewire itself and function in new ways.
Before research into neuroplasticity started in the early 1900s, scientists used to believe that once a brain was damaged by illness, trauma or injury, there was no hope for recovery. However, the discovery that we can change the pathways in our brain (a process now known as neuroplasticity) gave hope that recovery is possible.
There are two main types of neuroplasticity categories:
- Functional neuroplasticity. The permanent structural changes in neural synapses brought on by development and learning.
- Structural neuroplasticity. The strength of the connections between neurons and changes to this strength.
Neuroplasticity and Medications: An Intricate Dance in Mental Health
Some medications work to start or increase neuroplasticity. In fact, most medications for psychiatric disorders center around neuroplasticity. This is because the belief is that symptom reduction for psychiatric disorders comes from changing the function of neural networks.
Interestingly, a new possible explanation has recently emerged in the research community. There’s some evidence to suggest psychiatric disorders occur because of disorders of neuroplasticity.
Regardless of which explanation you believe, the connection is the same. Focusing on medications that impact neuroplasticity should help psychiatric disorders.
Drugs That Increase Neuroplasticity
Below are some of the most common drugs that increase neuroplasticity.
Adderall & Neuroplasticity
Drugs like Adderall and Ritalin are used to help children and adults improve their focus and the speed of learning. It’s been confirmed that these drugs can achieve these effects by enhancing brain plasticity.
Prozac & Neuroplasticity
Prozac is a common antidepressant that helps manage the symptoms of depression by increasing serotonin production. Scientists have theorized that depression kills neurons, and antidepressant medications encourage new neural growth in the brain. One study found that Prozac brought regions of the brain back to “an immature state where the brain could make more or break more connections with one another than is typical of the adult brain.” This is yet another example of brain plasticity in action thanks to medication.
Modafinil & Neuroplasticity
Modafinil is a medication people with sleep disorders use to help them stay awake. This medication increases levels of norepinephrine in the brain, a chemical responsible for wakefulness and attention. Once again, this is an example of a drug using brain plasticity to improve brain functioning.
Psychoactives & Neuroplasticity
Two categories of psychoactive drugs —MDMA and amphetamines — have been shown to increase serotonin and dopamine in the brain thanks to brain plasticity.
Shaping the Brain: How Neuroplasticity and Medications Impact Mental Health
It’s important to understand that neuroplasticity gives many people hope. It means recovery is possible, especially regarding mental health conditions. Medications that use brain plasticity may change brain function for the better.
Often, mental health conditions present as “different” brain activity. As a result, medication can look to alter neuroplasticity and help the brain relearn specific activities. For example, someone with depression will take medication that helps their brain increase serotonin production. This means taking the proper medicine can help individuals manage the symptoms of their mental health conditions so they can improve their overall quality of life.
Neuroplasticity can strengthen positive neural pathways, weaken negative ones and create new ones that are missing. Your brain is a powerful tool, and it can be accessed to help you feel better.
There’s been a significant increase in drugs focused on neuroplasticity in recent years because it’s clear these medications can have a real impact on people.
Limitations of Neuroplasticity
It should be noted that neuroplasticity can’t fix everything. If someone suffers extreme brain damage, even neuroplasticity may be unable to help. The evidence shows there’s hope when someone has trauma or injury around the cerebral cortex area. Other brain areas can usually compensate for the damage, and the individual can recover. However, recovery is less likely when a person suffers an injury to complex brain regions like the hippocampus.
Neuroplasticity Beyond Medication
Neuroplasticity doesn’t start and end with medication. Because neuroplasticity is all about rewiring and reteaching your brain, it makes sense that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) also falls under this category. CBT is about teaching a person to acknowledge, avoid and handle their harmful behaviors. By working with a therapist, the individual learns to undo their negative behaviors and relearn positive ones. This is neuroplasticity in action.
CBT uses neuroplasticity to help individuals with substance abuse addiction, PTSD, trauma and other mental health conditions. And it’s highly effective! One study found that in patients who received CBT treatment for 46 months, 43% improved and reported a reduction in depression symptoms.
Clearly, it’s possible to heal the brain from anxiety, depression, addiction and other conditions.
A Lifelong Journey
Individuals who are seeking recovery by focusing on neuroplasticity need to know that it’s a lifelong journey. Individuals can speed up — or slow down — recovery through lifestyle, stress and daily habits. Someone who’s hoping to recover from depression is probably going to need to do more than take medication. They’ll need to go to therapy, engage in positive lifestyle changes and continue to prioritize their mental health. Eventually, neuroplasticity might have such sweeping positive changes that they can decrease or wean off antidepressants and manage their depression independently.
Start Leveraging Neuroplasticity Medication Today With Sun Health Center
If neuroplasticity has piqued your interest as a way to help you through your mental health struggles, don’t hesitate to act today. Sun Health Center offers mental health programs that have helped hundreds of patients get back to living fulfilled, happy lives. Your brain can be leveraged to make positive changes; let us help you get there. Contact us today to learn more.