You don’t have to take hard core pain killers to feel good.  If you’ve already addressed some basics like eating a healthy anti-inflammatory diet and reducing your stress, but still need some strategies to increase your natural “high” and address some lingering pain, this post is for you.

A Basic Intro To Your Brain’s Opioid System

The brain opioid systems help regulate motivation, emotion, attachment behavior, hunger and satiety, and how one responds to stress and pain (R).

There are four major opioid receptors in our brain:

  • mu-opioid (MOR)
  • delta-opioid (DOR)
  • kappa-opioid (KOR)
  • nociceptin (NOR)

Increasing these receptors or the molecules that bind to them will produce an opioid high and reduce pain.

Mu-Opioid Receptors (MOR)

Mu activation may cause: sedation, pain relief, slowed breathing, lowered blood pressure, and euphoria.

Morphine is an example of a Mu-Opioid activator. Endorphins also activate Mu-Opioid Receptors.

Negative side effects may include itching, nausea, and constipation (R).

Delta-Opioid Receptors (DOR)

Delta activation may cause: some pain relief (although less that of Mu-Opioid activation), increased BDNF in the brain, antidepressant effects, and reduction of TNF-α inflammation (RR2).

Cannabidiol (CBD) is an example of a Delta-Opioid activator (R).

Negative side effects may include seizures at high doses (R).

Kappa-Opioid Receptors (KOR)

Kappa activation may cause: some pain relief, sedation, increased appetite, and increased urination (diuretic) (R).

Oxycodone, morphine, and menthol (found in peppermint oil), are examples of Kappa Opioid activators (R).

Negative side effects may include a bad mood (dysphoria), and in high dosages, hallucinations (R).

Nociceptin Opioid Receptor (NOR)

Nociceptin activation may include effects for chronic (not acute) pain relief (R).

It is also being studied for use in patients with Congestive Heart Failure and migraines (R).

Drugs are being studied to activate the Nociceptin Opioid Receptor for pain relief (R).

Negative side effects may include anxiety, depression, increased appetite, and increased acute pain (R).

23 Strategies for Pain Relief via Opioid Receptor Activation

The following either increase activation of our receptors, increase endorphins (activating our mu-opioid receptors), or make our opioid receptors more sensitive.

  1. Cold (R)
  2. High intensity exercise (RR2)
  3. Sleep (R)
  4. Sun/UVB (R, R2)
  5. Warm showers (R)
  6. Social interaction (R)
  7. Massages (R)
  8. Palatable foods (RR2)
  9. Acupuncture (R)
  10. Magnesium (R, R2)
  11. Butyrate (R)
  12. Capsaicin/Chili pepper (R)
  13. Acidophilus (R)
  14. Melatonin (R)
  15. LLLT (R)
  16. Low dose naltrexone (R)
  17. Oxytocin (R)
  18. MarijuanaTHC/CBD (R)
  19. Poppy Seeds (Though rare, poppy seed tea consumption can be fatal. It also has the potential to be abused or lead to opiate dependence) (R, R, R, R)
  20. Pregnenolone (R)

1) Take a Cold Shower

Intermittent swimming in cold water induces pain relief mechanisms that are mediated by our opioid system. This works by acutely increasing stress (R).

Cold exposure also increases “Heat Shock Inducible Factor”, which increases mu and delta opioid receptors in experimental rats (R, R2).

Increasing these receptors makes our innate opioids more likely to bind to and activate them. Keep in mind that long-term or high dose use of opioids reduces the number of mu opioid receptors (R).

2) Exercise More (Intensity matters)

Physical exertion can release opioids and is famously called the “runner’s high” (R).

Researchers have found that it’s the heavy weights or intense training that incorporates sprinting or other anaerobic exertion that produces effects. Light-to-moderate weight training or cardiovascular exercise doesn’t raise endorphins (R).

When your body crosses over from an aerobic state to an anaerobic state, it’s suddenly operating without enough oxygen to satisfy the muscles and cells start screaming out for it. This is when the “runner’s high” occurs (R).

Endorphins= (Endogenous morphine).

3) Sleep More

Sleep deprivation decreases the binding of mu and delta opioid receptors in the rat limbic system, lessening our body’s natural pain relief and feelings of pleasure.

Getting adequate sleep allows our bodies to keep pain in check (R).

4) Get Some Sun

Most of us just feel better when we get some sun. In fact, excessive sun tanning can lead to an addiction. Even low-dose UV light exposure increases your skin’s ability to produce endorphins, which go to your bloodstream (R, R2).

There’s no need to overdo it. A 1/2 hour of full body sun will contribute to higher endorphins and help lessen your pain response without increasing your risk for skin cancer. If you can’t get sun for whatever reason, then you can use a UVB light, which will also help your body produce vitamin D.

UVA doesn’t seem to increase endorphins (R).

5) Take a Warm Shower/Bath

We all know that a warm shower does wonders for our mood.

Mice who took a short swim in warm water were found to have increased beta endorphins as well as a reduction of pain (R).

6) Hang Out With Friends (Social Interaction)

It turns out that the same part of the brain that is active in drug addiction is also stimulated by positive social interaction. Is it any wonder why we are addicted to spending time with others?

A 2011 study of adolescent rats found that it is the stimulation of mu-opioidreceptors in the nucleus accumbens (part of the “reward circuit”) that accounts for the positive value given to social interactions (R).

In another study, surgery that resulted in nerve damage was performed on mice who were either living alone or with a companion. Some were subjected to stress before the operation as well.

Those who had had a companion mouse beforehand showed fewer signs of pain and inflammation (R).

Isolated mice with nerve damage had much higher levels of IL-1B in their brain. The Interleukin-6 production in mice that were not stressed was lower than in mice that were stressed (R).

According Professor of Neuroscience, Courtney DeVries, leader of the study at Ohio State University,

“We believe that socially isolated individuals are physiologically different from socially paired individuals, and that this difference seems to be related to inflammation” (R)

7) Get a Massage

Massage-like stroking, given intermittently, induces increasing anti-pain effects, which is mediated by the love and trust molecule, oxytocin (R).

Oxytocin interacts with the opioid system, especially the mu– and the kappa-receptors in the brain (R).

8) Eat Tasty Foods

Studies have shown that intake of palatable food stimulates the mu opiate receptors in the basal ganglia –part of the body’s reward circuit.

The fact that highly palatable foods are so readily available in recent years likely contributes to growing rates of obesity.

Palatable food is thought to work via the opioid system creating food addictions for some (RR2).

16 Healthy volunteers percieved pain less (cold-induced) after they eat, with a great reduction in pain from a high fat meal (R).

Women, but not men, who consumed the palatable sweet food showed increased pain tolerance compared with those receiving the unpalatable food, neutral food or no food (R).

9) Try Acupuncture

Our innate opioids play an important role in acupuncture’s effectiveness.

In general, acupuncture works by influencing the release and synthesis of opioids, and regulating the function and expression of their receptors (R).

You could try this acupressure mat.

10) Take Magnesium

Studies show that magnesium amplifies the pain-relieving effect of low-dose morphine in chronic pain conditions (R, R2).

Magnesium is your body’s form of “special K” or ketamine. Both act by blocking NMDA receptors, which is responsible for their anesthetic or “numbing” effects.

You can take a Magnesium Citrate or other forms of Magnesium.

11) Increase Your Butyrate

Resistant starch gets digested in your large intestine, with butyrate as a byproduct.

Butyrate increases mu-opioid receptors, increasing their pain-relieving effects (R).

One study found that resistant starch consistently produces more butyrate than other types of dietary fiber (R).

I use both of these products:

12) Up Your Intake of Capsaicin (Chili/Cayenne)

Capsaicin, found in cayenne and chili, increases endorphins (R).

Capsaicin has been known to curb pain for over 30 years (R).

13) Probiotics Are Your Friend

Acidophilus is capable of increasing the expression of mu-opioid and cannabinoid receptors in intestinal cells and has morphine-like effects (R).

This is especially important to people with gut pain/IBS.  I don’t know if it has this effect in other cells, but it might.

I recommend the linked Acidophilus in order to get enough.

14) Increase Your Melatonin Production

Melatonin exerts its pain-relieving (analgesic) actions by increasing the release of beta-endorphins (R).

Mankind used to get more of this hormone before the advent of modern lights lessened our exposure to darkness.

Light blocks melatonin production. You can wear red glasses 2 hours before bed to help you produce melatonin or you can take melatonin pills (glasses are preferred).

15) Use LLLT (Low Level Laser Therapy)

Low level laser therapy has many therapeutic benefits, one of which is pain relief.

Research has found LLLT increases our body’s natural opioids (R).

I’ve used this on my brain and it has a sedating and mood enhancing effect, which feels a bit like opioids.

16) Take Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN)

Okay, this one isn’t natural, but there’s pretty much little to no side effects.

The current theory behind Low Dose Naltrexone’s mechanism of action is that by inhibiting opioid receptors, it causes the body to increase production of endorphins and enkephalins in order to compensate for the blocked receptors.

The increased levels of opioids persist after the naltrexone has been eliminated from the body.

Thus, regular doses of Low-Dose Naltrexone can be used to increase a patient’s endorphin and enkephalin levels (R).

LDN is being researched for pain use, with positive preliminary results (R).

17) Fall In Love or Spray Some Oxytocin

Oxytocin (not to be confused with oxycodone) is a significant love and pleasure molecule.

Oxytocin is often referred to as the “love hormone” because it facilitates trust and attachment between individuals.

In some studies, high levels of oxytocin have been correlated with romantic attachment (R).

Oxytocin activates the opioid system to a degree, especially the mu– and the kappa-receptors in the “periaqueductal grey matter” which has a key role in the body’s natural pain-killing ability (R).

You can buy Oxytocin spray or Oxytocin sublingual, which is a natural compound our body produces.

The probiotic strain, L Reuteri also increases oxytocin (R).

18) Marijuana

Marijuana is one of the most famous and effective pain relieving drug.

The two most active ingredients in marijuana –THC and CBD – both activate mu and delta opioid receptors, with pain-relieving effects (R).

19) Check Out Pregnenolone

Pregnenolone is great for mood and motivation.

One of its products, estrogen, increases beta endorphins (R).

Low blood levels of Pregnenolone are associated with poor pain control (R).

20) Enjoy Poppy Seeds (in moderation)

Though rare, poppy seed tea consumption can be fatal. It also has the potential to be abused or lead to opiate dependence [R, R, R].

Poppy Seeds have morphine and codeine in them (R).

100g of poppy seeds is equivalent to 0.5mg-20mg of morphine (R). According to international data, poppy seeds have a maximum of 62 mg/100g morphine and 5.7 mg/100g codeine (R).

The usual morphine dosage for pain is 10-15mg.

Be very cautious about consuming poppy seeds in significant quantities if you are taking opioid medication, consuming it in the tea form, or if you have bowel obstruction [R, R].


Look Into Kratom: A Safer Pain Killer

Kratom is a plant widely used in thailand.  Some estimates say 70% of the males chew on this plant.

Kratom activates the mu-opioid receptors like morphine, but is less addictive than traditionally abused opioid drugs. Its effects differ significantly from those of opiates. Kratom does not appear to have significant adverse effects, and in particular does not seem to cause the abnormally slow breathing typical of other opioids (R).

I took 1g and I felt sedated, but that’s probably because I have a low tolerance.  I’d recommend 500mg as a supplement to healthy lifestyle, BUT ONLY IF YOU NEED IT.

This means, if you’re someone who’s ready to go on pain killers, then this is a better option.  I don’t use it for myself.


tDCS is meant for the serious biohackers.  I don’t recommend this unless you have a condition that this can really help such as some serious pain issues.

A 2012 study showed an increase of endogenous μ-opioid release during acute brain stimulation with tDCS, helping to relieve pain (R).

tDCS was tested in patients with a variety of conditions and pain syndromes. So far, the use of tDCS for patients with chronic pain is promising, with clinical observations justifying use for certain groups of patients (R).


Nicotine increases beta endorphins (R).

Nicotine increased the pain tolerance of men but had no effect on the pain ratings of women (R).

Health Tools I Wish I Had When I Was Sick

At SelfHacked, it’s our goal to offer our readers all the tools possible to get optimally healthy. When I was struggling with chronic health issues I felt stuck because I didn’t have any tools to help me get better. I had to spend literally thousands of hours trying to read through studies on pubmed to figure out how the body worked and how to fix it.

That’s why I decided to create tools that will help others cut down the guesswork:

  • Lab Test Analyzer – a software tool that will analyze your labs and tell you what the optimal values are for each marker — as well as provide you with actionable tips and personalized health and lifestyle recommendations to help you get there.
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  • SelfHacked Secrets – an ebook where we examine and explain the biggest overlooked environmental factors that cause disease. This ebook is a great place to start your journey if you want to learn the essential steps to optimizing your health.
  • SelfHacked Elimination Diet course – a video course that will help you figure out which diet works best for you
  • Selfhacked Inflammation course – a video course on inflammation and how to bring it down
  • Biohacking insomnia – an ebook on how to get great sleep
  • Lectin Avoidance Cookbook – an e-cookbook for people with food sensitivities
  • BrainGauge – a device that detects subtle brain changes and allows you to test what’s working for you
  • SelfHacked VIP – an area where you can ask me (Joe) questions about health topics

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