The science of euphoria
There’s a feeling in the rave that is almost impossible to describe. That point in the night, where you feel at one with the people around you. A tune comes in that totally transports you out of your body, to a point of elation that is difficult to quantify.
This feeling of euphoria can be life-changing. But what is actually happening in the body and mind when we experience such feelings?
The primary neurotransmitter responsible for euphoria is Dopamine. This chemical is the catalyst behind feelings of pleasure and well-being, ground zero for the glorious pathway to euphoria.
The release of dopamine is triggered by the brain’s reward system. It supports survival-enhancing behaviours – such as eating, drinking, and mating - which is why food and sexual pleasure lead to a hit of dopamine. Though music is an abstract reward, like falling in love, it has the effect of stimulating our pleasure centre.
The dance floor experience combines several key dopamine stimulants; dancing/exercise, social interaction, substances and, of course, music. Put them all together and you have a potent dopamine cocktail.
The most studied pleasure centre is the nucleus accumbens AKA the NAcc. Dopamine is produced by neurons of the ventral tegmental area (a group of neurons located close to the midline on the floor of the midbrain) and shuttled, via the nerve tract, to the NAcc. This is where the magic happens, leading to other parts of the brain’s pleasure network (or hedonic hotspots) lighting up with glee.
Once you get the massive dopamine hit, you can experience life-affirming feelings of elation, positivity, transcendence, oneness, safety, comfort and belonging. You can reach a high that may be overwhelming. In the NAcc, memories of these feelings are formed, which lead to a desire for more pleasure/reward. That’s why listening to certain tunes will always bring back that euphoric feeling you got when you first heard them.
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