You don’t have to take heroin or painkillers to feel good. If your life is healthy enough and incorporates enough of these strategies, you should feel good enough with these natural highs. Of course, taking drugs will have a more pronounced effect, but that’s not the state most of us are looking for. We just want to feel pretty good.
The term Endorphins was created by combining the two words Endogenous morphine. Endogenous simply means what our body naturally makes.
This post will discuss ways that you can either increase endorphins or activate the body’s opioid system.
- An Intro To Your Brain’s Opioid System
- Mu-Opioid Receptors
- Delta-Opioid Receptors
- Kappa-Opioid Receptors
- Natural Ways To Get A Drug-Free High
- 1) Take a Cold Shower
- 2) Exercise More
- 3) Sleep More
- 4) Binge On Sugar (or don’t if you don’t want to get addicted)
- 5) Get Some Sun
- 6) Fall In Love or Spray Some Oxytocin
- 7) Take a Hot Shower/Bath
- 8) Get a Massage
- 9) Hang Out With Some Friends
- 10) Butyrate
- 11) Eat Tasty Foods
- 12) Eat Chocolate
- 13) Eat Foods with Morphine-Like Characteristics
- 14) Use Alcohol in Moderation
- 15) Take Magnesium
- 16) Stress
- 17) Acupuncture
- 18) Take Low Dose Naltrexone
- 19) Don’t Sleep With The Lights On
- 20) Wear Red Glasses or Take Melatonin
- 21) Hold Your Breath (or don’t)
- 22) Use LLLT
- 23) Pregnenolone
- 24) Probiotics: Acidophilus
- 25) Chili/Cayenne
- 26) Marijuana
- 27) Enjoy Poppy Seeds (in moderation)
- Health Tools I Wish I Had When I Was Sick
An Intro To Your Brain’s Opioid System
There are four opioid receptors in our brain: mu-opioid (MOR), kappa-opioid (KOR), delta-opioid (DOR) and nociceptin (NOP). Increasing these receptors or the molecules that bind to them will produce an opioid high.
Activation of the mu receptor by a substance such as morphine causes sedation, euphoria and decreased respiration (R).
Individual differences in the function of the mu-receptor system predict personality traits that confer vulnerability to or resiliency against risky behaviors such as the predisposition to develop substance use disorders (R).
Activation of the KOR opposes many of the effects of the MOR and can prevent addiction to morphine, alcohol, and cocaine. It can cause an appetite increase and is activated by stress (R). KOR activation causes a release of prolactin, a hormone known for its important role in learning, neuronal plasticity and myelination (R). Ketamine, oxycodone, morphine and menthol all bind to KOR.
Natural Ways To Get A Drug-Free High
Implementing these steps can also wean people off of opiate addiction. Combining many of these will be especially helpful for such individuals.
All of these give us a positive feeling, and at least some of it is because of the opioid system in our body.
The following either increase activation of our receptors, increase endorphins, which naturally activate our mu-opioid receptors, or make our receptors more sensitive.
- Cold (R)
- High-intensity exercise (R, R2)
- Sleep (R)
- Sun/UVB (R, R2)
- Warm showers (R)
- Social interaction (R)
- Massages (R)
- Palatable foods (R,R2)
- Acupuncture (R)
- Magnesium (R, R2)
- Butyrate (R)
- Capsaicin/Chilli (R)
- Acidophilus (R)
- Melatonin (R)
- LLLT (R)
- Low dose naltrexone’s (R)
- Oxytocin (retracted study) (R)
- Nicotine (R)
- Marijuana – THC/CBD (R)
- 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)
- Pregnenolone (R)
- Kratom (R)
- tDCS (R)
- Alcohol (R)
- Stress (R)
1) Take a Cold Shower
If you’ve ever taken a cold shower, you’ll know you feel like a rockstar when you turn the faucet off. It’s a bitch while you’re in the shower, but after you reap the rewards.
Intermittent swimming in cold water induces pain relief mechanisms that are mediated by our opioid system (R). This works by acutely increasing stress.
Cold exposure also increases “Heat Shock Inducible Factor”, which increases opioid receptors in experimental rats. Specifically, mu and delta opioid receptors increase (R, R2), the same receptors that heroin and morphine work on. By increasing these receptors, our innate opioids are more likely to bind to receptors and activate them. Long-term or high-dose use of opioids reduces the number of mu-opioid receptors (R).
2) Exercise More
Researchers have found that light-to-moderate weight training or cardiovascular exercise doesn’t produce endorphins, only heavy weights or training that incorporates sprinting or other anaerobic exertion (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 screaming out for it. This is when the “runner’s high” occurs (R).
Endorphins= (Endogenous morphine).
3) Sleep More
Sleep deprivation decreases mu and delta opioid receptor binding in the rat limbic system, which controls emotions to increase feelings of pleasure (R). The effect is less of a good mood with the same amount of endorphins that our body produces.
4) Binge On Sugar (or don’t if you don’t want to get addicted)
I don’t recommend this because it’s not healthy, but sugar can create somewhat of a high.
The nucleus accumbens has an important role in pleasure including laughter, reward, and reinforcement learning, as well as fear, aggression, impulsivity, addiction, and the placebo effect (R)
Rats show signs of dopamine sensitization and opioid dependence when given intermittent access to sucrose, such as alterations in dopamine and mu-opioid receptors (R).
When these animals then fasted, they had the same chemical changes as withdrawal effects from addictive drugs, suggesting that the rats had become sugar-dependent. Specifically, acetylcholine was higher and dopamine was lower in the nucleus accumbens, which causes anxiety and cravings (R, R2).
Sugar-dependent animals have a delayed satiation response (acetylcholine release is delayed), drink more sugar, and release more dopamine than normal rats (R).
5) Get Some Sun
Subjectively, most of us feel better when we get some sun. Excessive sun tanning can result in addictive behavior. Even low-dose UV light exposure increases endorphins in your blood, which are created by your skin (R, R2).
No need to go crazy with it. A half hour of full body sun will make you ~5% happier without an increase in skin cancer. If you can’t get sun for whatever reason, then you can use a UVB light, which will also produce vitamin D for you.
UVA doesn’t seem to increase endorphins (R).
6) Fall In Love or Spray Some Oxytocin
Oxytocin (not to be confused with oxycodone) is a significant love and pleasure molecule and it increases prosocial behavior. Oxytocin is often referred to as the “love hormone” because it facilitates trust and attachment between individuals.
According to some studies in animals, oxytocin inhibits the development of tolerance to various addictive drugs (opiates, cocaine, alcohol), and reduces withdrawal symptoms (R).
Oxytocin activates the opioid system to a degree, especially the mu– and the kappa-receptors in the “periaqueductal grey matter.”(retracted study) (R)
In some studies, high levels of plasma oxytocin have been correlated with romantic attachment (R).
7) Take a Hot Shower/Bath
We all know that a hot shower does wonders for our mood. Mice who took a short swim in warm water were found to have increased beta endorphins and pain relief (R).
8) Get a Massage
Massage-like stroking induces anti-pain effects, and this is mediated by the love and trust molecule, oxytocin. Oxytocin interacts with the opioid system, especially the mu– and the kappa-receptors in the “periaqueductal gray matter.” (R)
9) Hang Out With Some Friends
It turns out that the same area for drug addiction in the brain is responsible for positive social interactions. Is it any wonder why people are addicted to hanging out with people?
A 2011 study found that stimulation of mu-opioid receptors in the nucleus accumbens is an important neural mechanism for the attribution of positive value to social interactions in adolescent rats. (R)
Hi-maize sure does give you a high, but it takes the next day to hit. To really feel good you need 120g of this stuff or 30g taken 4 times a day. Resistant starch digests in your large intestine to produce butyrate.
One study found that resistant starch consistently produces more butyrate than other types of dietary fiber (R).
Butyrate is a powerful HDAC inhibitor, which is the same mechanism as valproic acid/depakote. HDAC inhibitors uncoil histones and epigenetically express genes.
Butyrate increases the protein CREB, which increases expression of BDNF, a neurotrophic factor. These mechanisms help in producing an anti-depressant effect.
11) Eat Tasty Foods
Studies have shown previously that stimulation of mu-opiate receptors within the ventral striatum increases intake of palatable food.
The over-consumption of readily available and highly palatable foods likely contributes to the growing rates of obesity worldwide. Palatable food is thought to work via the opioid system to create these addictions (R,R2).
12) Eat Chocolate
We all are familiar with the feel-good sensations we get from chocolate. Epicatechins in chocolate acts mainly via delta-opioid receptors, which also produce cardiac protection from stroke injury (R).
I recommend 85% Chocolate.
13) Eat Foods with Morphine-Like Characteristics
Make sure you aren’t sensitive to these proteins.
- Casomorphin (from casein found in milk of mammals, including cows) (R)
- Gluten exorphin (from gluten found in wheat, rye, barley) (R)
- Gliadorphin/gluteomorphin (from gluten found in wheat, rye, barley) (R)
- Soymorphin-5 (from soybean) (R)
- Rubiscolin (from spinach) (R)
- Menthol – Found in numerous species of mint, (including peppermint, spearmint, and watermint), the naturally-occurring compound menthol activates the kappa opioid receptor (R)
14) Use Alcohol in Moderation
Drinking alcohol induces opioid release in the nucleus accumbens and orbitofrontal cortex, areas of the brain implicated in reward valuation (R).
A drink or two a night is fine and could be used in combination with other opioid increasers.
The research on whether alcohol is healthy is all over the map, but a drink is likely healthy for most healthy people. My guess is that our genes determine if alcohol is healthy for us, so listen to your body to know if it works for you.
15) Take Magnesium
Studies show that magnesium amplifies the analgesic effect of low-dose morphine in conditions of sustained pain (R, R2). So while this one won’t give you a high directly, it’ll allow our natural opioids to be more effective.
Magnesium is your body’s form of “special K” or ketamine. Both act via antagonizing NMDA receptors.
You can either take a Magnesium pill or just eat lots of plant-based foods, which have adequate magnesium.
I always noticed that when I was stressed I was more anxious, but I was never in an unhappy mood during stress.
It turns out that stress acts in the short term like morphine. Depending on the nature of stressors, different pain relief mechanisms can be activated (R).
This kind of makes sense from an evolutionary point of view. Do you want to be feeling pain from that sprained ankle while running away from a lion?
Our innate opioids play an important role in acupuncture effects. In general, acupuncture activates our opioid system by influencing the release and synthesis of opioids, and regulating the function and expression of their receptors (R).
18) Take Low Dose Naltrexone
Ok, this one isn’t natural, but there’s pretty much no side effects.
The current theory behind Low dose naltrexone’s (LDN) 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. These increased levels of endogenous 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).
19) Don’t Sleep With The Lights On
Experimental animals exposed to constant white fluorescent light had a significant decrease of tissue content of opioids (enkephalins, which bind to delta opioid receptors) during the dark-phase of the 24-h circadian rhythm (R).
I use these Glasses at night to block blue/green light at night.
20) Wear Red Glasses or Take Melatonin
We used to get more of this hormone since we used to be exposed to more darkness before the advent of modern lights.
21) Hold Your Breath (or don’t)
Ok, I don’t actually recommend this, but chronic intermittent hypoxia decreases pain sensitivity and increases the expression of Heat shock Inducible Factor, which increases opioid receptors in experimental rats. Specifically, mu and delta opioid receptors increase (R).
22) Use LLLT
I’ve used this on my brain and it has a sedating and mood enhancing effect, which feels a bit like opioids. Read the linked post on where to buy it and how to use it.
Pregnenolone is the best mood enhancer. One of its products, estrogen, increases beta-endorphins. (R) However, pregnenolone and almost all of its breakdown products increase mood in some way or another.
24) Probiotics: Acidophilus
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.
27) Enjoy Poppy Seeds (in moderation)
100g of poppy seeds is equivalent to 0.5mg-20mg of morphine (R).
The usual morphine dosage for pain is 10-15mg.
tDCS is meant for the serious biohackers. I don’t recommend this unless you have a condition that this can be helped by such as a mood disorder or if you just have a low IQ.
A study in 2012 showed an increase of internal μ-opioid release during acute motor cortex neuromodulation with tDCS (R).
I’ve zapped my brain with this probably a dozen times, though I don’t have a need for it currently. It does put me in a good mood, though, so I can see how that happens.
Kratom is a plant widely used in Thailand. Some estimates say 70% of the males chew on this plant.
I don’t recommend using this unless you are trying to get off painkillers or other morphine-like substances, and with a health professional’s guidance.
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 appears not to cause the hypoventilation 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 a healthy lifestyle, BUT ONLY IF YOU NEED IT. This means, if you’re someone who’s ready to go on painkillers, then this is a better option. I don’t use it for myself.
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.
- SelfDecode – a software tool that will help you analyze your genetic data from companies such as 23andme and ancestry. You will learn how your health is being impacted by your genes, and how to use this knowledge to your advantage.
- 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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