We’ve all heard of the phenomenon known as a “runner’s high.” That powerful euphoric mood that overtakes our brain after intense exercise is what keeps many of us going back to the gym every day.
But what exactly is going on chemically when we get a runner’s high? You often see the euphoric high induced by exercise attributed to endorphins, but new studies suggest that might be a mistake. It turns out, a runner’s high might actually have more in common with cannabis than we previously thought. Keep reading to find out more!
How Does THC Make You High?
Let’s start by talking about cannabis and learn why exactly smoking weed gets us high.
The cannabis plant is chock full of various psychoactive compounds, including dozens of different molecules called cannabinoids. You’ve likely heard of at least two different cannabinoids—CBD and THC.
THC is special because it’s the cannabinoid responsible for producing the high we associate with marijuana consumption. Here’s how it works:
Our bodies are all partially regulated by a complex cell-signaling system called the endocannabinoid system (ECS). It uses neurotransmitters called endocannabinoids to send messages to the rest of the body in order to help maintain homeostasis. The endocannabinoid system partially governs functions such as memory, mood, appetite, and sleep patterns.
When we consume THC, it mimics endocannabinoids, binding to the neurotransmitter receptors located primarily throughout the brain and central nervous system.
What Does A THC High Feel Like?
As a result of THC consumption, many of the functions regulated by the endocannabinoid system become affected. To put it simply, it makes you feel high.
Everybody experiences THC intoxication a little differently. Biological factors like weight and gender, the cannabinoid/terpene profile of the cannabis product, and a person’s mental state going in can all impact how THC will affect a person.
That being said, there are some common effects THC users are likely to experience. These include:
Shifts in perception
Increased feelings of relaxation
Feelings of euphoria
Heavy body sensations
Spontaneous or uncontrollable laughter
Heightened anxiety or feelings of paranoia
What Is A Runner’s High?
In contrast, a runner’s high is the feeling experienced after an intense period of aerobic exercise. Not every athlete experiences a runner’s high, but those who do describe the feeling as a sense of bliss or euphoria immediately following the period of exercise. Those who experience a runner’s high often feel decreased stress and anxiety and sometimes even feel as if they could start exercising all over again.
Scientists have attributed this sensation to the flood of endorphins that hits the body during exercise for years. However, according to Dr. David Linden, a professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, endorphins might not have anything to do with a runner’s high.
What Are Endorphins?
Also known as endogenous opioids, endorphins are groups of peptides that interact with our opiate receptors to help relieve pain. When we exercise, our bodies flood the bloodstream with these endorphins in order to help prevent muscle pain and allow athletes to continue pushing forward. Our bodies also release endorphins during physical traumas like sports injuries, as well as during pleasurable experiences like having sex or eating chocolate.
Relative to other chemicals in the body, endorphins are rather large. Because of their size, endorphins can’t easily pass through the blood-brain cellular barrier, which means that it’s almost impossible for them to produce the short-term psychoactive effects we associate with a runner’s high.
How To Get A Runner’s High?
So if it’s not endorphins creating a runner’s high, what is doing it? As it turns out, it may be endocannabinoids.
Our bodies do produce more endocannabinoids during exercise, similar to endorphins. However, unlike endorphins, endocannabinoids can cross the blood-brain barrier with ease.
While we don’t know for sure that endocannabinoids are the chemicals behind a runner’s high, their known impact on anxiety and mood coupled with the facts that their production increases during exercise and they can easily pass the blood-brain barrier makes them much better candidates than endorphins.
Are you one of the rare people that experience the sensation of a runner’s high? Have you ever tried combining exercise with cannabis? Let us know about your experience on our Twitter!