Every one of us yearns for feelings of pleasure. We do so because pleasure is a by-product of actions needed for survival and prosperity. Pleasure is also an intrinsic human need, as it is directly associated with happiness and contentment. The neurochemistry of our brain is, by default, set up to seek pleasurable activities.
There are two main ways to attain feelings of pleasure – through substances or naturally. Substances, both legal and illegal, work by altering the neurotransmitters and receptors of the brain. In the short-term, this creates feelings of pleasure. In the long-term, it creates dependency, abuse, addiction, and even death.
In contrast, a natural high is healthily addictive while altering the brain’s neurochemistry the way it was meant to be altered. We’re going to discuss five activities that will zone in on the pleasure centers of your brain, without the side-effects and other harmful qualities of substances.
5 Ways to Get High (Without Using Drugs)
Natural high #1: Sex
Sex is a natural high because it causes the release of endorphins – a natural opioid, similar to morphine, which creates feelings of euphoria and reduces stress. Endorphins are found mainly in the pituitary gland of the brain, and are released through different activities.
While often portrayed as a taboo subject, there is nothing more natural than engaging in the act of sex. Our brains are wired for us to participate in intercourse for various reasons – reproduction, hormonal production, survival, and of course pleasure.
In addition to the pleasurable feelings that sex creates, there are various other benefits:
– A healthy immune system.
– An enhanced libido.
– Improved bladder control, especially in women.
– Lowers blood pressure.
– Burns calories.
– Lowers the risk of heart attack.
– Lessens pain.
– Lowers risk of prostate cancer.
– Improves sleep.
Natural High #2: Exercise
Although popularly known as runners high, it turns out that other types of exercises are just as effective. Neuroscientists indicate that the high is a facilitated through two chemicals: beta-endorphin, an opioid involved in relaxation and pain reduction; and anandamide, which is responsible for the both pain reduction and euphoria.
Exercise is a tremendous pleasure-inducing activity because it not only releases endorphins, but two important brain chemicals as well – dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine is a precursor of adrenaline and is chemically necessary for feelings of happiness and pleasure. Further, dopamine plays an important role in motor skills and appetite control.
Serotonin is perhaps the most important chemical in balancing mood and regulating appetite. In addition, the chemical aids in the important functions of sleep, memory, and sexual function. In addition to being chemically necessary for euphoric feelings, serotonin levels have a dramatic effect on overall mood.
Studies show that anaerobic exercise – brief, strength-based activities, such as sprinting or weightlifting – that releases the largest amount of endorphins. The more intense the workout, the more endorphins are released.
But you don’t need much, which is beneficial since most of us are tight on time. 30 minutes three times a week is enough to experience these benefits.
Natural High #3: Cuddling
Affectionately holding someone is a great expression of love, but it’s also good for you in another way. Cuddling not only releases endorphins, it releases another feel-good hormone called oxytocin, further increasing the great feeling derived from holding someone close. Oxytocin is the primary chemical that is released while cuddling.
Cuddling close to your partner also creates feelings of sexiness, which causes the release of dopamine. In addition to being a necessary chemical for brain function, it also increases sexual desire.
Besides the euphoric feelings that cuddling provides, it is also effective in reducing stress and blood pressure. Hugs, kisses, and intimate touching with your partner all increase oxytocin, which also plays a role in the bond that we create with our significant other. This chemical reaction reduces blood pressure, which in effect reduces the risk of heart disease while reducing stress and anxiety.
Children also benefit from the act of cuddling, especially with their mothers. Research shows the release of oxytocin, which is also a neuropeptide linked through childbirth and breastfeeding, plays an important biological function in the bonding between the mother and baby.
Natural High #4: Dark Chocolate
Aside from tasting delicious, chocolate also has numerous other benefits. Dark chocolate contains chemicals that initiate the release of endorphins, which as we established is a key hormone in producing pleasure.
Contributing to the natural high that chocolate produces are the outstanding health benefits of the product. Containing high levels of polyphenols and other antioxidants, dark chocolate is effective in reducing blood pressure and inflammation, reducing ‘bad’ cholesterol and increasing ‘good’ cholesterol, while also protecting the health of your arteries.
Researchers have concluded, using a set of 139 studies over nearly 40 years, that moderate chocolate consumption can reduce the risk of cardiovascular death by 19 percent. There is one caveat to this finding, however. The amount required to realize the health benefits it just 6.7 grams per day. This equate to about one small square of dark chocolate two or three times per week. The heart benefits of consuming dark chocolate drop very quickly with larger amounts.
Natural High #5: Laughter
According to Dr. Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist at Oxford, the act of laughing may have contributed to the bonding of human beings through the process of evolution. In other words, laughter has contributed to the social fabric of human beings throughout time. It has done so by having elements that foster closeness within a group, similar to the way that many physical acts of closeness, such as patting and grooming, have created bonds between primates.
The endorphins released through laughter create the euphoric feelings that occur both during and immediately after laughing. Interestingly enough, human beings are not the only creatures that laugh. According to Dr. Dunbar “Laughter is an early mechanism to bond social groups…primates use it.”
In addition to the good feelings that laughter produces, it is also effective at keeping sickness away, both physical and psychological. In a study at the University of Utah, Dr. Jason Goodson found that watching stand-up comedy had a significant effect on depressed patients. In fact, some patients were eventually cured completely, while others found that the severity of their systems had been reduced by 50%.