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Myth: Runner’s High is Caused by Endorphins

For many years, the belief was that the euphoric state known as the runner's high resulted from the release of endorphins, our body's natural painkillers. However, recent studies have shifted our understanding.

Fact: Endocannabinoids Fuel the Runner’s High

Research indicates that endocannabinoids, which are chemically similar to cannabis but naturally produced by our bodies, are the real contributors to the runner's high. These chemicals can cross the blood-brain barrier, influencing our mood and reducing anxiety. Notably, a study involving experienced runners showed that blocking endorphins did not prevent the runner's high, but blocking endocannabinoids did, suggesting their pivotal role in this phenomenon.


The belief that a runner's high is exclusively triggered by endorphins has been prevalent in both popular culture and some scientific circles for decades. This idea was based on the understanding that endorphins, often dubbed the body's natural painkillers, are released during prolonged physical activity and are chemically similar to opiates. It was thought that these substances, by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, produced the euphoric effect often reported by endurance runners.


Evidence Supporting Endocannabinoids' Role: A pivotal study conducted by Johannes Fuss and his team, published in the journal "Psychoneuroendocrinology," used an experimental approach where participants were administered drugs to selectively block opioid receptors (which respond to endorphins) and then engaged in running. The study found that the blockade of these receptors did not inhibit the runner's high, suggesting that endorphins might not be the primary cause of the euphoria experienced.



Contrastingly, when drugs were used to block the endocannabinoid receptors, the typical euphoria and post-run peace did not occur, strongly pointing to endocannabinoids as the actual mediators of the runner's high. These molecules, such as anandamide, are fat-soluble and can cross the blood-brain barrier, where they bind to cannabinoid receptors, influencing pleasure, memory, thinking, concentration, movement, coordination, and sensory and time perception.


Further Research and Implications: Other studies complement these findings. For instance, a research project that measured the levels of both endorphins and endocannabinoids in humans and dogs after running found that endocannabinoids spiked significantly post-exercise, correlating with mood improvement and reduced anxiety. The study was illustrative because dogs, like humans, are cursorial animals naturally evolved for endurance running.

Moreover, evolutionary biologists suggest that the development of a runner's high via endocannabinoids could be an adaptive trait, encouraging ancient humans to engage in and enjoy endurance activities like running, which were crucial for hunting and survival.


At Brothers.MD, we strive to provide accurate, research-backed information on holistic health practices and products, from the potential of hemp-based solutions to the real effects of aromatherapy and beyond. Understanding these myths and facts can empower you to make informed decisions about your health and wellness journey.


Conclusion: The shift from endorphins to endocannabinoids as the primary drivers of the runner’s high reflects a broader movement in science towards a deeper, more nuanced understanding of how the body and brain interact during physical exertion. This knowledge not only enriches our understanding of human physiology but also potentially impacts how we approach exercise motivation and the mental health benefits of physical activities. At Brothers.MD, we continue to explore and share insights that align with the latest scientific discoveries, ensuring that our community is empowered with knowledge that enhances their holistic health journey.

 


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