There’s a long history of people trying crazy things to get high, and some of them don’t even involve drugs. These “natural highs” might be legal, but they aren’t always a good idea. Some natural highs are perfectly healthy and even good for you, like a runner’s high, but others involve risky behavior that might end up being just as dangerous as drug use.

First, what are natural highs? They occur because the brain releases endorphins, which are neurotransmitters, or chemicals that pass along signals from one neuron to another in the brain. They react with receptors in cells found in certain regions of the brain that are responsible for blocking pain and controlling emotion. They can make you experience pleasure and feel a sense of satisfaction. Endorphins can be released through intense aerobic exercise and also more meditative activities like yoga and Pilates. Some drug highs occur because the certain substances (morphine and heroin, for example) mimic the effects of endorphins.

Some other examples of things that can cause natural highs are sex, music, laughter, and spending time in the sun and experiencing nature. Even spicy foods can lead to feeling high. Capsaicin, the substance that makes hot peppers spicy, triggers the release of endorphins and dopamine in the brain.

You’d think that natural highs were perfectly safe, but they can actually be just as addictive as drugs. We know that people end up needing more of a substance to feel high because Exercise addiction, for example, can occur when one continues to chase that initial high. It meets many of the same criteria that are used to define drug dependence: tolerance, or having to  increase the amount of exercise in order to feel the desired effect; withdrawal, when the person experiences effects such as anxiety, irritability, restlessness, and sleep problems when they try to go without exercise for a while; lack of control or unsuccessful attempts to reduce exercise cease exercising for a certain period of time; exercising beyond the time you had allotted or intended to spend; and social, work, and other responsibilities begin to suffer as a result of too much time exercising.

PROS AND CONS OF NATURAL HIGHS

Another problem is that just because a high is natural doesn’t necessarily mean it’s safe. Consider a trend called “breath therapy,” which is advertised as a trip similar to the kind you’d have on hallucinogenic drugs. The idea is that you hyperventilate to the point that the blood in your brain starts getting oversaturated with oxygen. You’ll start to feel light-headedness or dizziness, and some people claim it causes a euphoric feeling. Unfortunately, it might also lead to you blacking out. It can also cause a condition called cerebral hypoxia, where the brain is completely deprived of oxygen, resulting in brain damage and even coma and death.

If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504 to get started.