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What Is Brain Chemistry?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Brain chemistry or neurochemistry is the complex system which allows the brain to function with the use of chemicals known as neurotransmitters which move information around in the brain. Every person's brain chemistry is slightly different, and a number of things can play a role in the levels of various neurotransmitters in the brain, and how those chemicals affect the brain's function. It is believed that variations in brain chemistry may explain a variety of behavioral disorders and phenomena.

The brain is a network of specialized cells called neurons. Each neuron has reserves of neurotransmitters which it can fire when ordered to so, along with receptors for specific neurotransmitters. Brain activity is created by sending messages with neurotransmitters to signal various cell activities throughout the brain and nervous system.

Someone's environment can influence the levels of neurotransmitters and their receptors in the brain, as can factors like diet, medications, and various drugs. Some chemical compounds appear to have long term effects. Nicotine, for example, is heavily involved with the neurotransmitter dopamine. These external influences on chemistry in the brain can cause behavioral changes or alterations in the way the brain functions; people who smoke, for example, form an addition to cigarettes as a result of the way in which nicotine changes brain chemistry.

Some people also appear to be prone to alterations in their brain chemistry which can occur as the result of genetic or internal functions. Depression, mania, and many other psychiatric disorders are closely linked with the chemistry of the brain, which means that specific medications can often be used to adjust a patient's chemistry to help him or her achieve more normal brain function. These medications act differently on different people because the chemistry of the brain is very complex and varied, making it difficult to formulate a one size fits all medication to treat conditions like depression.

Certain personality types have also been linked with the levels of various neurotransmitters and receptors in the brain. Risk takers, for example, often have fewer dopamine receptors in their brains, which can mean that they have to work harder for a sense of satisfaction and reward. This may push them to engage in risky behaviors.

Changes in brain chemistry do not just affect mood. They can also have a larger impact on the nervous system, which means that people can develop conditions such as tremors and neuralgia as a result of an alteration to the fundamental chemistry of the brain.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon322293 — On Feb 26, 2013

I'm not here to respond to any ones questions or posts. I have a major problem of my own and I can't handle it anymore. I was diagnosed with bi polar 2 about four years ago and have been on Topamax and sequel. I thought all was well, but really it's not! This may sound really crazy, but please hear me out.

I have a unique issue, and I'm not the only person who notices it. Everyone sees it and frankly it's embarrassing. Everyone laughs at me! I glow? I have a transparent double that extends about 1 inch to about 2 inches off my body. Something like a ghost. I know I sound crazy, I feel like I'm going crazy. I just need some help, please.

By Armas1313 — On Feb 28, 2011

Depression is an issue which plagues many people for a great variety of reasons. Many of these reasons have to do with a self-doubt or a feeling of inadequacy. This can be buttressed by faulty transmittors or reward chemicals in the brain. Individuals can learn to generate these chemicals by self-motivation, but more often medication may be required.

By BostonIrish — On Feb 27, 2011


It is true that certain medicine can be effective ane helpful. I also think that we need to realize how little we truly know about the brain before we dismiss any sort of unusual confidence in a person as being manic. In animal life, for instance, high serotonin and neurotransmission is often the mark of school leaders in fish groups. A sense of calling and vision is not always delusion or mania. Any diagnosis should be taken with a cautious grain of salt.

By SilentBlue — On Feb 26, 2011


I think that science has made considerable advances in terms of understanding and dealing with mental issues, and that we have a firm grasp on what comprises delusions and depression. Medications can be quite effective in dealing with specific chemical problems which cause these issues.

By GigaGold — On Feb 23, 2011

Various mental and psychological disorders can occur due to chemical imbalances in the brain. Here's the curve ball though: we really don't understand how these chemicals all truly work together in the brain. Butter terms up with fancy Greek and Latin terms and try to make them sound delphic and intelligent, but when the rubber hits the road, we are really pretty clueless.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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