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Runners High: Caused by Endorphins or Cannabinoids?

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For decades, the concept of the “runner's high” has been attributed to the release of endorphins during exercise, providing a euphoric sensation that keeps athletes coming back for more. However, recent research suggests that another player may be behind this phenomenon: the endocannabinoid system (ECS).  MyCannabis had a  conversation with Jesús Visoca Ros who shed light on a study that challenges the long-held belief that endorphins are solely responsible for the runner's high.

In this study, researchers set out to uncover the mystery behind the runner's high by investigating the role of endorphins and endocannabinoids during exercise. Contrary to conventional wisdom, which pointed to endorphins, the study revealed a different story. When participants in the study engaged in physical activity, their bodies released anandamide, a key endocannabinoid, triggering feelings of euphoria and pleasure.

What's truly remarkable is that when researchers blocked the endorphin system using antagonists, the euphoric effect persisted. However, when they targeted the endocannabinoid system with antagonists, the effect was completely abolished. This pivotal finding led to the conclusion that the runner's high is primarily mediated by endocannabinoids, not endorphins.

The implications of this discovery are profound.

By understanding the role of the ECS in producing euphoria and modulating pain perception during exercise, researchers can explore new avenues for treating chronic pain conditions. Furthermore, this research challenges traditional views on the mechanisms underlying the runner's high, paving the way for a deeper understanding of the ECS and its therapeutic potential.

“And though endorphins help prevent muscles from feeling pain, it is unlikely that endorphins in the blood contribute to a euphoric feeling, or any mood change at all. Research shows that endorphins do not pass the blood-brain barrier,” says John Hopkins professor of neuroscience David Linden, Ph.D.

From this and other corroborating research, it's clear that the ECS holds immense promise in shaping the future of medicine. From pain management to mood regulation, the ECS plays a multifaceted role in maintaining health and well-being. So the next time you experience that euphoric rush during your morning run, remember—it's not just your endorphins at play, but your endocannabinoids too.