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What is dopamine fasting and does it work?

The Sepah technique was created to help people stop engaging in actions that repeatedly produce large amounts of dopamine to give their brains time to repair and regenerate. Picture by SHVETS production/Pexels.

The Sepah technique was created to help people stop engaging in actions that repeatedly produce large amounts of dopamine to give their brains time to repair and regenerate.

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While you can’t “fast” from a naturally occurring brain chemical. Dopamine is one of the body’s neurotransmitters and is involved in our body’s system for reward, motivation, learning, and pleasure.

According to Dr. Peter Grinspoon, primary care physician, and cannabis specialist at Massachusetts General, dopamine does rise in response to rewards or pleasurable activities, but it doesn’t decrease when you avoid overstimulating activities, so a dopamine “fast” doesn’t actually lower your dopamine levels.

What’s the thinking behind dopamine fasting?

To better understand the intent behind this technique Dr Grinspoon alludes to the fact that Sepah’s fast, is aimed at creating a cognitive behavioural therapy technique that would help us become less reliant on the unhealthy stimuli that come with living in a contemporary, technologically-driven culture. Such as the constant instant gratification we’ve all become accustomed to.

We need to give our brains time to rest and recharge from this potentially addictive bombardment rather than quickly reacting to these reward-inducing cues, which provide us with an instant but fleeting charge.

This way we will reclaim control of our lives and be better equipped to handle obsessive habits that may be hindering our happiness if we allow ourselves to experience feelings of loneliness or boredom or to find pleasure in carrying out simpler and more natural activities.

Grinspoon points out that individuals who have chosen to experiment with this method have gone to tremendous lengths to tailor it to fit their particular narrative.

They view dopamine as a recreational drug in the sense of giving themselves a “tolerance break” so that the pleasures of whatever they are depriving themselves of — food, sex, human contact — will be more intense or vivid when consumed again, believing that depleted dopamine stores will have replenished themselves. People go as far as avoiding human contact or something as simple as eye contact because of this.

Sadly, it doesn’t work that way at all, he said.

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