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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

The brain opioid systems are known to play an important role in motivation, emotion, attachment behaviour, the response to stress and pain, and the control of food intake (R).

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.

Mu-Opioid Receptors

Activation of the mu receptor by a substance such as morphine causes sedation, euphoria and decreased respiration (R).

Although morphine increases sedation, it decreases the total amount of deep sleep and rapid eye movement sleep in humans (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).

Delta-Opioid Receptors

Molecules that bind to delta opioid receptors show robust evidence of both antidepressant effects and also increase of BDNF production in the brain in animal models of depression. (R)

They also protect against heart damage from strokes by preconditioning our heart.(R)  DORs are neuroprotective as well and work in part by reducing TNF (R).

Activation of delta receptors produces some pain relief, although less than that of mu-opioid activators. (R)

Kappa-Opioid Receptors

Kappa activation actually produces a bad mood (dysphoria), some pain relief (analgesic), urination (diuretic) and in high dosages produce hallucinations (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.

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

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

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.

Most drugs of abuse increase dopamine in the nucleus accumbens. Under select dietary circumstances, sugar can have effects similar to a drug of abuse (R).

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)

Repeated and excessive intake of sugar mimicked the effect on neurotransmitters in a similar manner to morphine or nicotine (R, R2).

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).

L Reuteri increases oxytocin. (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)

Altered receptor function may underlie social impairments in psychiatric disorders such as autism, schizophrenia, or personality disorders. (R)

10) Butyrate

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.

Butyrate increases mu-opioid receptors (R).

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.

HDAC Inhibitors are mood stabilizers, anti-epileptic, anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory. (R)

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).

Eating a nice juicy steak gives you a good feeling, without the addictive properties.  Stick with whole foods and you should be alright (lectin sensitive people should not eat whole foods mostly) (R).

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.

16) Stress

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?

It’s important to keep in mind that stress can also lead to depression by increasing dynorphins (R).  But a little stress can go a long way, as long as it’s only for short durations.

17) Acupuncture

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

Mu-opioid receptors show a circadian rhythm.  When we disrupt this rhythm chronically, usually the systems that it controls get disrupted as well and don’t function the way they’re supposed to (R).

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

Melatonin exerts its analgesic actions by increasing the release of beta-endorphins (R).  The effect of melatonin is surely weak, but it’s more than nothing.

We used to get more of this hormone since we used to be exposed to more darkness before the advent of modern lights.

Light blocks melatonin production.  You can use red Glasses to produce melatonin 2 hours before bed or take Melatonin pills.

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

Low-level laser therapy has many therapeutic benefits, one of which is pain relief.  It has been found part of the pain-relief mechanism is because 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.  Read the linked post on where to buy it and how to use it.

23) Pregnenolone

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

Acidophilus is capable of increasing the expression of mu-opioid and cannabinoid receptors in intestines 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.

25) Chili/Cayenne

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

26) Marijuana

The two most active ingredients in marijuana –THC and CBD – both activate mu and delta opioid receptors. (R)

27) 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).

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].



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.


Nicotine increases beta-endorphins. (R)


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.
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  • 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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1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (6 votes, average: 4.00 out of 5)


  • Ivan Savachenko

    I’d advise you to read this in depth in regards to your suggestion of poppy-seeds as a way to raise opioid-levels.

    Unwashed poppy-seeds have significant amounts of not only morphine but also 50 other opioidergic alkaloids, creating a cocktail effect upon combination.

    Alkaloid content among seeds can very 6000-fold, which means that 10g of a batch of seeds can have the equivalent potency of 100g of seeds.

    Deaths have occurred due to respiratory depression when overdosing on poppy-seeds as result of due huge variance in content.

    Physical addiction is real, and is often worse than a standalone morphine or heroin addiction due to the amount of alkaloids in the poppy-seeds.

    It is a heads up, since your website also offers consultancy services which could make you liable.

    1. Caroline Lam

      Thank you for reaching out, Ivan. I’ve added a section stating the risks.

  • Travis

    Lauren Jones
    You def. Need to get your daughter into something that involves exercise. I myself have always had some sort of opiate deficiency. Exercise regimen is the only time I’ve been happy in my life with out the help of narcotics. Funny thing is due to the damGe thgat opiates did to my brain i van not get motivated to exercise or develop in sort of regiment for that matter. I gotta figure something out, a life of existing is no life at all.

  • Travis Jones

    Magnesium can be a game changer. I pickef up some from intelligent labs called Mag Enhance it has Magnesium Glycinate, Magnesium Taurate and best of all Magtein AKA Magnesium L-Threonate. I feel much calmer/relaxed not as overwhelmed. Do yourself a favor and give it a try you wil not regret it.

  • Rj

    I disagree LDN (low dose naltrexone, NLTX) does not have sides. It changes immune balance by affecting th1 and th2 and of course, th17 systems. It depends on dose amount and length of time as to what is supresses or stimulates. It is unfortunately touted as a wonder cure, and while shows a lot of promise for some things, it is not wise to take it willy nilly. Be very careful, do not go exacerbating some autoimmunity or opening yourself up for infection by taking it without knowing what else is going on.

  • Mark Verhoff

    Yes, it can. Your gut has the second highest concentration of opiod receptors in your body, sometimes described as a ‘second brain’. There is some element of neurotransmitter production here too… although I am not qualified to describe any of that in detail.

  • Arthur J. Marr

    New procedure to increase opioid levels in the brain

    Below is an outline for a simple procedure that engages dopamine-opioid interactions to significantly raise opioid and dopamine levels in the brain. It is derived from the work of the neuroscientist Dr. Kent Berridge of the University of Michigan, who was kind to vet the manuscript for errors and to endorse the resulting work.

    To wit:
    Individuals who engage in tasks that have a consistent and high degree of positive prediction error or ‘meaning’ (e.g. sporting events, creative activity) commonly report a feeling of high alertness and arousal that may be construed to be due to the activation of mid-brain dopamine systems. However, a significant subset of these individuals also report a feeling of pleasure or bliss, but these reports are characteristic only in non-stressed situations when the musculature is relaxed. Since relaxation engages opioid systems in the brain, and because opioid and dopamine systems potentiate each other, blissful states require the sustained and simultaneous engagement of resting protocols and meaningful cognitive states, behaviors that in the author’s opinion are very easily achieved. (The argument is stated in greater detail on pp.39-41 of the linked little book below.)

    This position may or may not be theoretically correct, but it can be easily tested personally (no need for brain scans, control groups or in vivo manipulations), which is a far faster way of refuting my position than a scholarly critique!

  • Brenda Calderon

    When’s this book come out and how do I purchase it. Igor here by buying wixol . Has anyone tried that?
    Oh sorry I didn’t do comment first was kinda confused. I hope you can see this reply. And I’m unsure how to edit it?

  • Brenda Calderon
  • Lauren Jones

    Our daughter seems to always be in a grumpy mood and is having a hard time finding friends at school. I did not know that exercising more could help a person feel happier because of the endorphins being produced. Thanks for informing me that heavy weights or training that incorporates sprinting or other anaerobic exertion are best if you want this boost. We will have to get our daughter involved in a sport, thanks again.

  • Luke

    Former opiate addict here. Took vivitrol (naltrexone ER) as part of rehab, to prevent relapse. For me, I think it causes slight dysphoria and anhedonia. However, once the naltrexone ER starts to wear off (35-50+ days) I become more euphoric and enjoy things more, I believe, than if I had never taken the vivitrol shot. Point is… I would probably be a proponent of the low-dose naltrexone.
    Has anyone here tried the low-dose naltrexone or had experience with naltrexone ER?

  • Sarah Grady

    Epsom Salt baths a great way to increase your Magnesium levels.

  • Alexandra McGee

    I get a weird very pleasant feeling over my abdomen and then my whole body that is similar to an orgasm in intensity, but isn’t an orgasm, when i begin to feel cramps/pain in my abdomen. I’m wondering if andominal pain can induce opiates. I like the opiate feeling but I’m worried about what’s going on down there-cancer-? And I can’t get my doctor to take me seriously! Any ideas?

  • Tom

    OSU! Nothing beats a hardcore Aikido yoshinkai session! Natural endorphins, and best of all:FREE!

  • Chrissy

    Nothing about sex or orgasms influencing the opoid system?

    1. Joseph M. Cohen

      You tell me

    2. matt thurston

      years ago i took zinc supplement and epsom salt (magnesium). after 6 months i got panic attacks. for 6 years now i don’t feel anything from sex, beer, and no longer get runners high when jogging. ive tried everything. doctors dont ‘ know what is causing it

      1. John Macgregor

        Doctors don’t generally know about this stuff. That’s why we come to places like this.

        I have no idea what is your cause, but I got copper deficiency after a few months of too much zinc (dosages vary per person); & one symptom of that was anhedonia – inability to feel pleasure from pleasurable things.

  • Graeme

    I see your reference for oxytocin activating the opioid system has a retraction notice on it –

    1. Joseph M. Cohen


  • phil

    RE: butyrate, would a pure butyrate supplement work as well as resistant starch? RS and my gut do not get along 😉

    1. Joseph M. Cohen


  • toronto

    Hey, I’ve used Kratom since I was 19 I’m 27 now. That’s 8 years. I’ve used it for confidence you might consider in terms of approaching strangers for sales,meeting new friends and meeting girls. Mood is very important so is energy. When the Kratom does hit you with its high, hopefully you supplement with turmeric black pepper and 5-htp to help tolerance a bit. Well when it hits you can be confident and feel like oh my gosh my day is so amazing already. So one rejection is nothing to me. You will particularly notice if you are rejected and yet unaffected that you are likely getting a boost from it.

    People except high energy so some half hello or quick compliment may not be enough depending on how rushed the person is, how attractive you seem etc

  • pete

    Great article. As a recovering heroin addict I do a lot of these things already, and did quite a few before I got stuck on it – but there are some new ones on your list (apart from of course poppy seeds and kratom;) that I now intend to try. Thanks for that!. Could maybe add get involved in a martial art (in my case aikido) for a lot of very good reasons.

  • Earl27

    Great article! All great ideas for slef-hacking your bod. I’m a big fan of Kratom (#25 on your list. For more information, this website has really great info about it (effects, benefits, legality, side effects, wetc).

  • LK5

    There are any diffrence between Hi-Maize and cornstarch? In my country there are only cornstarch. Thank you.

  • Solomon

    Excellent stuff.

    I’ve ordered something apparently akin to kratom, “zembrin.” I’ve read amazing things about kratom’s appetite suppressing powers. It supposedly acts as a sort of leptin replacement. But it’s illegal where I am so zembrin will have to do.

    1. Joe

      Thanks Solomon.
      I’ve tried scleretium before. PDE4 inhibitors don’t work via the opioid system to my knowledge.

      Do you have a source for it being a leptin replacement?

      Btw, I’m working on posts related to weight loss that you will enjoy.

  • K Man

    Would tDCS realy help some one who has a low iq ti increase it thank you. Whens the book coming out will you show me how to increase iq please thank you

    1. Joe


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