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Drugs & Health Blog

Chasing the Runner's High

This blog post is archived and is no longer being updated. For the latest content, please visit the main Drugs & Health Blog page.
Sara Bellum

Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of NIDA, is an avid runner—6 miles a day!

We all know the benefits of physical activity on the body, but as a neuroscientist, Dr. Volkow is also interested in how exercise helps the brain.

Working your body can definitely make you feel good—but can you really get a “high” without drugs?

Doing exercise like running actually stimulates the brain's reward system and releases the same feel-good brain chemicals that drugs do. The best part of “getting high” through exercise is that you avoid the negative health effects of drugs, while also making your body stronger.

What causes this natural high?  Here are a couple theories from research:

Theory 1: Endorphins and Dopamine

The body produces its own kind of opioids—chemicals closely related to the drugs morphine or heroin—called endorphins. Endorphins are produced when we feel excitement or love, or when we eat tasty food. The brain also produces endorphins during intense workouts.

The release of endorphins stimulates the brain's reward system to release dopamine—the brain’s #1 feel-good chemical. Increased dopamine in the brain causes the euphoria people get from drugs and may explain the runner’s high too.

Theory 2: Endocannabinoids

Other research suggests that a different class of chemicals, called cannabinoids, are also released by exercise and may contribute to the runner’s high.

Your body actually makes cannabinoids—called endocannabinoids—that act on the same brain receptors as the THC in marijuana. It’s no surprise then that cannabinoids are associated with the pleasant sensation, reduced anxiety, and pain reduction that marijuana can bring.

The runner’s high might even help people who are addicted to drugs. NIDA is supporting research to find out how exercise and the release of those feel-good brain chemicals might help prevent substance abuse, or even encourage people who do drugs to replace one habit with another—in a good way.

So, does knowing that exercise can make you feel happy make you want to pop in your earbuds and take a run??

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


I feel some sort of happiness after I do some exercise like swimming or playing basketball. Here I can see the scientific explanation. Thanks.
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Running and working out definently makes me feel good when im done but i dont think it gives someone the same " high" as drugs do.

Yes,indeed.Working out your body does bring happiness.May I suggest muscle building is one of them too?You get self confidence from working out at home or gym! [commercial link removed, per guidelines]

I will very confident when i running jogging every morning i feel a sort of happiness. :) Excercise makes you feel good and healthy life style. :) [commercial link removed, per guidelines]

very interesting this is helpful stuff. It makes you feel good and healthy life.
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Does neurotoxic damage from the basis of runners Hi impede neuronal development in higher functions?

Thanks for your question. We don't have any information on that here, but you might try searching the websites for the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) or the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS).

i like it when i get runners high :)
i like when i get runners high it makes me feel like really really good ;)
The runners high is the ultimate natural high. All the real G's run hella miles