The Role of the Endocannabinoid System in Runner’s Highs

Learn About the Science Behind Your Runner’s High:

After an intense run or other aerobic exercise session, you’ve probably experienced something called the “runner’s high” — that euphoric sensation that makes the leg cramps and tired lungs all worth it. If you’re anything like us, you’re also passionate about health, fitness, and the great outdoors. You might even know and seek out this “runner’s high” on a daily or weekly basis.

But, what exactly is this coveted runner’s high, and what’s happening to our bodies and brains when the “high” hits? That’s the exact question we’re answering today, and here’s a hint: There’s an interesting link between runner’s high and your endocannabinoid system, and the usual suspect (endorphins) aren’t as responsible for this sensation as you might think.

What is the endocannabinoid system?

Before we dive into the research, let’s talk about the endocannabinoid system and its role in our bodies:

“The endocannabinoid system has been recently recognized as an important modulatory system in the function of brain, endocrine, and immune tissues. It appears to play a very important regulatory role in the secretion of hormones related to reproductive functions and response to stress.”

Clearly, this newly discovered system of ours is an important one. It’s been the subject of an ever-increasing amount of research, including a recent study on mice that assessed the link between the endocannabinoid system and the runner’s high we love so much.

What does the endocannabinoid system have to do with runner’s high?

During the study, researchers observed that while endorphins can’t pass through the blood-brain barrier, a lipid-soluble endocannabinoid called anandamide is up for the job.

That’s a big deal, because anandamide is also present at high levels in people’s blood after running. Even better, it can travel from your blood to your brain, where it can be the catalyst for a high. Here’s how the study was conducted:

  • Mice were split into two groups, one would run for five hours and one stayed sedentary.
  • Shortly after their five-hour run, the mice were exposed to a dark-light box test.
  • During the test, a mouse’s anxiety levels are measured based on the frequency at which they dart from well-lit areas into the dark to hide.
  • The first group displayed less anxious behavior than the sedentary group when exposed to the test. Interestingly, the mice who ran also had a higher tolerance for pain.

To conclude the study, the researchers performed the same experiments under different circumstances.

Mice were given endocannabinoid and endorphin antagonists, which are molecules that block cannabinoid and opioid receptors in the brain. The endorphin antagonists didn’t have a significant impact on results, but mice treated with endocannabinoid antagonists (and mice genetically engineered to lack endocannabinoid receptors) were still anxious and sensitive to pain, even after running for hours.

And, that’s why the researchers concluded that endocannabinoids (like anandamide) play a big role in causing a runner’s high. Even if you’re not a runner, this is fascinating information. It demonstrates the endocannabinoid system’s role in pain management, anxiety, and more.

Now, the question becomes, “How can we use this knowledge to improve our lives? How can we get that same feeling of euphoria without going for a long run?”

Thankfully, researchers are asking these questions. On an anecdotal level, we’ve already heard countless positive stories about how certain supplements and snacks (like our Coconut Bites) help people feel calm and empowered. As research continues, further discoveries and increased understanding about the mysteries behind how our bodies function will surely emerge.

– The Weller+ Team

Our Boulder, Colorado-based team might be small, but we make up for it with excitement, inspiration, and dedication. We’re excited to share the game-changing benefits of CBD, inspired by the stories our customers share, and dedicated to inventing even more yummy snacks, beverages, and other treats to make CBD an easy part of your Well(er) life.

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