A group of scientists from the University of Heidelberg’s medical school in Germany recently found that running triggers similar brain effects to marijuana’s, since new findings revealed the presence of what we may call the “runner’s high.”
Past studies showed that running helps with the release of endorphins, chemicals in our body that makes us feel better both emotionally and physically. But German scientists also found that running helps the body release endocannabinoidsnaturally produced compounds with a similar effect to that of smoking pot.
The team now believes that the ‘runner’s high’ is not linked with endorphins, as some researchers had suggested, but with endocannabinoids. The team based their findings on a group of laboratory mice that took great pleasure in running on a wheel on a daily basis.
Scientists reported that the lab animals had high levels of both chemicals in their brains after a running session. They were also less likely to feel pain, less anxious, and calmer. The furry animals were also more prone to socialize and spend time in well-lit areas of their cage rather than retreat in a dark solitary corner.
But at this point of the research, study authors weren’t sure whether the improvements brought by physical activity were linked to endorphins or endocannabinoids. So they had the idea of numbing the mice’s endocannabinoid receptors.
As a result, after a running session, those mice were highly sensitive to pain and as anxious as they were before they got on the wheel. But only endocannabinoid receptors brought this drastic change. When the team blocked opioid receptors there was no change in animals’ level of anxiety.
Yet opioid receptors may influence how running triggers similar brain effects to marijuana’s. Earlier this year a team from the University of Missouri learned that artificially activating mice’s mu-opiod receptors made them less likely to go for a run, although they were especially trained to love running.
When the receptors were completely shut down, mice were also less compelled to start running but not in the same way they were after the receptors were stimulated. Greg Ruegsegger, lead author of the Missouri paper said that the findings were surprising because their lab animals were ‘highly active’ and would run on their wheels several times a day.
But the University of Heidelberg researchers found another interesting fact. They said that their mice experienced the “runner’s high” only after they ran more than three miles or five kilometers per day.
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