Since the 80’s we’ve been attributing the invigorating, I-can-do-anything sensation one feels during a tough workout session to endorphins. Researchers found that blood levels increased after endurance exercise, which make sense. Endorphins are known to produce pain-relieving side effects in the body, a self-produced opioid, if you will.
But endorphins aren’t really the culprit for producing the euphoric buzz known as “runner’s high” that keeps runners across the globe signing up for long distance races.
Endorphins are actually way too large of molecules to cross the blood-brain barrier. Your body is so smart that it is extremely particular about what it lets cross into the brain from the blood, protecting us from weird foreign diseases and such. So when endorphins are produced, they’re mainly found below the neck and are not present in the brain.
Enter Cannabinoids: Endocannabinoids, to be specific.
That’s right, our body produces cannabinoids. These molecules are similar to those produced by the cannabis plant. Cannabinoids are small and when produced, can easily cross the blood-brain barrier, enabling the euphoric buzz.
In 1992 scientists discovered that humans possess an endocannabinoid system that is responsible for maintaining balance in the body.
The Endocannabinoid System, or ECS for short, can affect how we move, feel and react. This complex communication network has been recently recognized as an important modulatory system in the function of brain, endocrine, and immune tissues.
The ECS also regulates secretion of hormones related to the reproductive functions and response to stress. This makes sense because when we put our body through the rigorous physical and mental stress that comes along with endurance training, it takes care of itself by releasing anadamine.
Anadamine: the cannabinoid that is responsible for the euphoric sensation that comes with endurance exercise is called Anandamide, named from Ananda, the sanskrit word for “bliss.”
Yes… We have a bliss molecule! Anandamide activates the CB1 and CB2 receptors in our body to produce the pleasurable mental sensation runners and fitness addicts are constantly chasing.
So the next time you’re getting your distance on, give your cannabinoids (and yourself) some credit. They’re working hard to make sure you’re staying blissed out while you’re pushing your limits.