Plant medicine is truly one of the oldest ‘feel good’ medicines in existence, traditionally used in some of the most revered and honoured ancient medicinal rituals and healings.

What is lesser known is that a natural stimulation of the Endocannabinoid System itself can have incredible health benefits and as it happens, your body has never not been able to tap into the pleasure/joy resources of the Endocannabinoid System naturally –

How do you accomplish that?

You get running.

What is Runner’s High?

Catching your stride regularly, for any amount of time between 20 minutes to an hour, can produce feelings of extreme joy, overwhelming happiness and a general sense of absolute euphoria.

Runner’s high is classically associated with endorphins, a group of neurotransmitters released with exercise and which bind to opioid receptors in the brain. Endorphins are one of four neurotransmitters or hormones found naturally occurring in the body that are released through vigorous exercise that influence happiness, pain relief, depression and pleasure: dopamine, endorphins, serotonin and oxytocin.

Studies now show that in this state of euphoria and natural high, the body is also producing endocannabinoids.

“Studies now show that in this state of euphoria and natural high, the body is also producing endocannabinoids.”

The Endocannabinoid System and Euphoria

As neuroscientists look more carefully at which compounds affect euphoria, a new concept is coming to the forefront and the main catalyst, and it involves the body’s own Endocannabinoid System.

Dr. Johannes Fuss, a psychiatrist and head of the Human Behaviour Lab at the University of Hamburg, looked at how the body’s neurotransmitters and chemical compounds impacted euphoria, including the body’s naturally produced endocannabinoids.

In a study conducted by Dr. Fuss and his team, 63 human participants and active runners were divided into groups, half receiving the opioid receptor blocking medication Naloxone and the other half receiving a placebo.

The study concluded that regardless of blocked opioid receptors in the brain, participants were still able to experience runner’s high and euphoric feelings, concluding that the sensation of the ‘runners high’ is more influenced by the Endocannabinoid Systems receptors than previously thought.

Runners High vs. THC High

Based on the work of Dr. Fuss, it’s thought possible that during exercise the natural blood cells in the body accelerated endocannabinoid production, which then quickly travel through the blood to cross the blood-brain barrier. Once in the brain, the endocannabinoids stimulate CB1 receptors in the brain producing euphoric feelings of joy or happiness; a similar action as THC.

As endorphins cannot cross the blood-brain barrier, the Endocannabinoid System is easily considered the fundamental culprit in this phenomenon and runners with less experience of the ‘high’ are simply thought to have fewer CB1 receptors in the brain affected by the production of endocannabinoids.

“Runners with less euphoria are simply thought to have fewer CB1 receptors in the brain affected by the production of endocannabinoids.”

CB1 Receptors & the Feelings of Pleasure

Part of the physiological systems that influence rewards and rewarding behaviours are found in the CB1 receptors in the brain, affecting the chemicals compounds and endocannabinoids that produce a feeling of joy from food, exercise, closeness and sex.

Although the ECS is impacted by phytocannabinoids and endocannabinoids, to affect a change in energy balance in the body, there is another culprit; a neurotransmitter that behaves like an endocannabinoid: anandamide.

Anandamide: The Bliss Molecule

Anandamide is known as the ‘bliss molecule’ and is closely linked to Oxytocin for its role in stimulating and activating endocannabinoid receptors in the brain, increasing feelings of happiness and motivation.

Studies showed that with an increase in production of oxytocin, that there was a similar increase in the presence of anandamide.

However, when anandamide was blocked, the pro-social effects of oxytocin were also blocked, suggesting the ECS has a huge role in social behaviours and the overall feel-goods of close relationships and connections.

As the interest and influence of plant medicine continues to accelerate and evolve, looking further into the natural effects the ECS can have on our wellbeing also goes hand in hand.

For those who aren’t looking to embrace plant medicine for health and wellness, being able to harness the same ‘high’ through exercise, might be the next best thing.

Author: Amber McKenna
Medically Reviewed By: Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Jamie Rickcord MBBS., BSc., FRACGP