You know that weightless yet invincible feeling you get after a long, vigorous run? Yeah, me neither. But chances are, even if you’re not one of the lucky exercisers whose effort is rewarded with the proverbial "runner’s high,” you’ve heard friends gushing about their “endorphin rush.” 

According to a new study, though, it’s not endorphins that cause this post-workout feeling of elation, but endocannabanoids, the same mellowing, pain-relieving compounds found in marijuana. (Endocannabanoids are the reason medical marijuana works so well to reduce pain and improve mood.) Yes, our bodies create “internally produced marijuana,” as The New York Times calls it. This means that smoking a joint produces, neurochemically speaking, the same effect as running a 10K. So how do you make your own endocannabanoids?

According to Runners World magazine, endocannabanoids are generated in response to stress, so you need to trigger a spike in the stress hormone cortisol to get your endocannabanoids flowing. To achieve this level of cortisol, run at 70 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate.

Another (not ideal) way to make endocannabanoids, according to research conducted at the University of California, Irvine published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is to gorge on fatty carbohydrates such as French fries and potato chips. These foods, unlike sugars or proteins, cause our gut cells to create the pot-mimicking compounds. The catch is, eating these types of unhealthy foods further stimulate the appetite and, obviously, they’re not nutritionally beneficial for you.

Have you ever experienced a runner’s high? How would you describe it?



  1. The New York Times: Homing In on the Source of Runners High
  2. Runners World
  3. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences