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I did find this popular press article that quotes a researcher offering the following quantification: "in lab experiments done on animals, sex causes dopamine levels to jump from 100 to 200 units, and cocaine causes them to spike to 350 units. '[With] methamphetamine you get a release from the base level to about 1,250 units...'" [1]

However, I haven't found any research study supporting this claim or providing any details?

[1] http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/meth/body/

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This review article [1] gives dopamine responses for rats (similar to the BBC article above) and includes references to the underlying studies:

  • Sex/Food: 150% - 300%
  • Alcohol/Ethanol: 190% (1g/kg) *
  • Morphine: 200% (1mg/kg) *
  • Nicotine: 220% (0.6mg/kg) *
  • Cocaine: 350% (5mg/kg)
  • Methamphetamine: 1000% (1mg/kg)

These are percentages of the baseline dopamine level (not percentage increases), so 100% would be no effect. They correspond to dopamine levels in the Nucleus Accumbens, which is a brain region involved in processing reward.

Also, the drug effects are dose dependent, so the above values show the dosage with the largest effect among the dosages tested in this study [2], which was referenced from the review article. The values marked with asterisks were estimated visually from the graphs.

[1] Allerton M, Blake W. The "Party Drug" Crystal Methamphetamine: Risk Factor for the Acquisition of HIV. Perm J. 2008;12(1):56–58. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3042341/

[2] Di Chiara G, Imperato A. Drugs abused by humans preferentially increase synaptic dopamine concentrations in the mesolimbic system of freely moving rats. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1988;85(14):5274–5278. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2899326

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  • $\begingroup$ Hi Andy, nice answer. We like answers to be able to stand on their own, however. A link to a source is good but please also provide a full citation. And if the articles provide more info like dosages it would also be better to include those directly. $\endgroup$ – Bryan Krause Jan 14 at 1:34
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    $\begingroup$ I added a more detailed citation. However, the review article I cited does not include dosages, though results for various dosages are included in some of the studies that they reference. If I find time, I may track them down. $\endgroup$ – Andy Jan 14 at 1:53

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