The “Runners high”
The “Runners high” is actually related to Endo-cannabinoids rather than endorphins as once thought!
In this article I will touch on how endo-cannabinoids are actually the major cause of this “runners high” you may have heard about or even felt for yourself.
Endorphins are now being seen as NOT the major factor to this phenomenon called “runners high” (a feeling of euphoria mixed with reduced anxiety levels and a lessened ability to feel pain) as once thought, it is actually the endo-cannabinoid system which plays a major role in this state as new research shows!
But what IS this “runners high”?
Well although the term is runners high, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be running to achieve this state. In many cases any extensive physical activity (heavy lifting or endurance activities like running for example *and even physical traumas I suspect*) our bodies produce and/or release a plethora of compounds into our bodies systems. Some of these are more for physical rebuilding such as enhanced NO production which helps with swelling the muscle up during strenuous activities, which in turn adds not only power to the working muscle, but also enhances nutrient accumulation in the area to help with muscle function and tissue repair as well. Another less known and talked about class of compounds are ones that effect our mood, energy, anxiety and pain levels, this is what I will be exploring in this article.
Usually if you ask someone specializing in the fitness field about “runners high” a compound called endorphins will usually be mentioned as the cause for this phenomenon. But new research is showing more and more that in fact the major cause for this “runners high” is actually the endo-cannabinoid system!
This makes much more sense since endorphins are too large to cross the blood-brain barrier anyways and I feel the whole “endorphins give you a runners high” is just a rash, simple, quick explanation for something scientist at the time couldn’t explain very well and the bad thing is it caught on “as fact” to the masses sadly.
Well believe it or not scientists have recently discovered thanks to Cannabis (aka. Marijuana) research that we have a WHOLE ENDO-CANNABONOID SYSTEM! It is much like the much known immune-system, complex and playing major roles in our day to day lives.
Not too long ago we didn’t even know of it, now all of a sudden it’s a major part of our anatomy and I am fairly sure our endo-cannabinoid research and understanding has only just hit the tip of the ice berg (so to speak) and that there are many more new discoveries into what these systems do, impact and are important for on the way.
Endo-cannabinoids and the cannabinoids you would get from the plant cannabis are very much alike in effect and structure. A dose of the well-known cannabinoid THC acts a lot like our own cannabinoids, but THC is just ONE of MANY cannabinoids.
In the cannabis plant there is a plethora of cannabinoids that work together synergistically in giving their physical and mental effects. Although THC is often seen as the “main cannabinoid of importance” it is far from that in my opinion. I mean sure it’s usually the one in the highest concentrations in most cannabis plants and maybe even the most physiologically active, but what if there are others that although lesser in quantity, are stronger in effects? And when I say “effect” I do not simply mean only a mental “buzz” I am talking full spectrum in this statement, from a “buzz” to killing cancer cells or lessening other physical ailments such as pain, IBS, MS, etc.
My point is do not think the other cannabinoids in the mind blowing cannabis plant are of lesser importance just because they are in lesser qualities vs. THC, or are simply less researched and understood at the moment.
In recent research it has been noted that the “role of the endocannabinoid system as it relates to exercise and call attention to the possibility that the endocannabinoid system may play an important role in the physiological and psychological adaptations to exercise.” And “Using a combination of pharmacologic, molecular genetic, and behavioral studies in mice, we demonstrate that cannabinoid receptors mediate acute anxiolysis and analgesia after running. We show that anxiolysis depends on intact cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1) receptors on forebrain GABAergic neurons and pain reduction on activation of peripheral CB1 and CB2 receptors. We thus demonstrate that the endocannabinoid system is crucial for two main aspects of a runner’s high.” What’s also very exciting is that there is more and more research coming out now showing these same types of findings.
A hypothesis I also have is that although yes of course I feel physical activity is healthy, maybe it is not only the physical activity itself but also the endo-cannabinoid release that staves off diseases and other medical issues. I mean if cannabis has been proven time and time again to kill cancer cells it would make sense that our own system with similar compounds is also playing a role in this area in not only preventative but also curative ways as well. Just something to think about.
To date only two cannabinoid receptor subtypes (and a suspected 3rd CB3) have been identified, the CB1, CB2 receptors and 2 ligands; 2-AG and Anandamide which effect these receptors. The CB1 receptor is located in the central nervous system, and has a dense concentrations on the membranes of the neurones located in the cortex, hippocampus, basal ganglia, amygdala, hypothalamus, and cerebellum. The CB2 receptor is mostly located in peripheral tissues and cells.
It has been noted that “with respect to the nervous system, the general effect of CB1 activation is neuronal inhibition, which does not apply to CB2 receptors, as they are mainly expressed on immune cells.” So although related, these receptors do have unique actions that are only now being researched deeply.
So even if you do not administer Cannabis in your day to day life, be it for chronic medical issues or just in general, it does not mean cannabis research does not impact you. Thanks to cannabis research we know more about the human body than ever before and as I said, this is only the tip of the ice berg.
Thankfully due to many countries now legalizing Cannabis or considering to do so, I see the research into cannabis and the endo-cannabinoid system speeding up and being made easier to research and this helps us all. From research to ending part of a failed (and absurd in my opinion) war on drugs, it helps all the people, whether you use Cannabis or not. Do not ignore the great importance this plant has had in not just treating, preventing and curing diseases, but also its great importance in our own understandings of the human body and how it works.
Long ago I too felt these people claiming cannabis did so much seemed like an extreme joke, but now more and more medical research shows just how right they really were (for the most part). It is not often one single plant can do so much and show so much and this along with the stigma sadly commonly associated with cannabis use made it seem like an exaggerated claim to most that it could do so much and sadly it was just deemed by many as a ploy or excuse from “pot heads” to use this wonderful plant… but guess what? Most that discredited these people’s experiences and knowledge on cannabis were/are wrong and that’s a fact proven by science and only gaining momentum in that direction. This plant really is a “Godsend” and is one of the most important parts of not just our current culture but our whole human civilizations as a whole.
Stay tuned for my next articles coming out soon touching on the long history of cannabis use as well as Cannabis and its historical religious uses.
Have an enlightened day!
1) A runner’s high depends on cannabinoid receptors in mice. Johannes Fussa,b,1,2, Jörg Steinlea,1, Laura Bindilac, Matthias K. Auerd, Hartmut Kirchherre, Beat Lutzc, and Peter Gassa http://www.pnas.org/content/112/42/13105
2) Role in Anxiety Behavior of the Endocannabinoid System in the Prefrontal Cortex, T. Rubino,N. Realini, C. Castiglioni, C. Guidali, D. Viganó, E. Marras, S. Petrosino, G. Perletti, M. Maccarrone, V. Di Marzo.Cereb Cortex (2008) 18 (6): 1292-1301. https://academic.oup.com/cercor/article/18/6/1292/271331/Role-in-Anxiety-Behavior-of-the-Endocannabinoid
3) Exercise activates the endocannabinoid system, Sparling, P. B.; Giuffrida, A.1; Piomelli, D.1; Rosskopf, L.; Dietrich. http://journals.lww.com/neuroreport/Abstract/2003/12020/Exercise_activates_the_endocannabinoid_system.15.aspx
4) Cannabinoid receptors and pain. Pertwee RG1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11164622?access_num=11164622&link_type=MED&dopt=Abstract
5) Identification of an endogenous 2-monoglyceride, present in canine gut, that binds to cannabinoid receptors. Mechoulam R1, Ben-Shabat S, Hanus L, Ligumsky M, Kaminski NE, Schatz AR, Gopher A, Almog S, Martin BR, Compton DR. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7605349?access_num=7605349&link_type=MED&dopt=Abstract
6) Behavioral effects of cannabinoid agents in animals. Chaperon F1, Thiébot MH. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10803637?access_num=10803637&link_type=MED&dopt=Abstract
7) Cannabinoids reduce hyperalgesia and inflammation via interaction with peripheral CB1 receptors. Richardson JD1, Kilo S, Hargreaves KM. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9539680?access_num=9539680&link_type=MED&dopt=Abstract