Our bodies release feel-good chemicals called endorphins that act as pain relief, modulate stress, and can trigger a mild sense of euphoria.

What are Endorphins and How Do They Impact The Endocannabinoid System?

The human body has some pretty miraculous safeguards built in to protect us from pain and other natural stressors. When we feel pain or stress, our bodies release chemical neurotransmitters called endorphins that act as pain relief, stimulate the release of sex hormones, modulate stress and appetite, and can trigger a mild sense of euphoria. 

An Overview of Endorphins

The word “endorphin” comes from the word “endogenous,” which means created within the body, and the word morphine, which is a well-known opiate analgesic. Endorphins are basically our bodies’ self-made opiates. When the body encounters pain or stress, endorphins are released and act to regulate those sensations. 

For many years, the so-called “runner’s high” people experience after periods of intense exercise was thought to be caused by an endorphin release leading to a feeling of euphoria, but that has been hotly debated within the scientific community lately. We do know, however, that endorphins are released in response to exercise; it’s just unclear at this point if they are responsible for the feeling of well-being that accompanies exercise. 

Endorphins as Therapy

Endorphins may be instrumental in reducing the discomfort associated with chronic pain conditions.

Some scientists believe that people who live with chronic pain conditions have lower endorphin levels in their nervous system, making them more susceptible to pain or poor mood. One of the most common suggestions for alleviating these conditions is to exercise. It’s thought that an endorphin release will help to uplift the mood or block pain signals, resulting in a decrease of symptoms.

One period of exercise isn’t a cure-all, however. Consistency is more valuable than intensity. Regular, low-impact exercise is more valuable over time than periodic high-intensity exercise.

Endorphins and The Endocannabinoid System

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is an important part of the regulatory functions of the human body. Comprised of neurotransmitters, proteins, and lipids, the ECS works to keep the body in a state of homeostasis, or balance. The endocannabinoid system is made up of two different receptors — CB1, which is found in the central nervous system, and CB2, which is located peripherally throughout the body.  When the ECS is triggered by stimuli like pain or stress, endocannabinoids are released to work with receptors located throughout the body to bring everything back to normal.

Endocannabinoids are cannabinoids produced by our bodies. They are similar in function to phytocannabinoids — cannabinoids synthesized by plants like cannabis. 

THC and CBD are two of the most well-known phytocannabinoids,x and both have myriad therapeutic properties. CBD, which stands for cannabidiol, has gained a reputation as a therapeutic agent for conditions ranging from acne to supporting overall health and wellbeing. CBD does not bind with CB1 or CB2 like other cannabinoids. Instead, it is believed that CBD prolongs the life-span of other cannabinoids, lengthening the time they function within the body and therefore enhancing their effects.

Studies have shown that when CB2 receptors are activated, endorphins are released and pain is decreased. Since CBD bolsters the effects of cannabinoids that bind with both CB1 and CB2 receptors when it is used, not only do we experience the other benefits of CBD, we experience a small endorphin rush that helps to relieve pain or modulate mood. By extending the length of time cannabinoids interact with CB2 receptors, it is possible that more endorphins are released for longer than would be the case without CBD.

Since endorphins are our bodies’ natural opiates, the possibility for increased pain relief from these feel-good chemicals for those who live with chronic pain looks very promising!   

The Takeaway

Endorphins are valuable allies in the battle against pain, low mood, and other common conditions. By utilizing the cannabinoid-endorphin connection, we are able to not only boost and prolong the effect of endorphins but also benefit from all the other therapeutic aspects of the phytocannabinoid. Before beginning CBD, please discuss adding it to your wellness regimen with your healthcare provider. 

References:

  • Bidari A, Ghavidel-Parsa B, Rajabi S, Sanaei O, Toutounchi M. The acute effect of maximal exercise on plasma beta-endorphin levels in fibromyalgia patients. Korean J Pain. 2016;29(4):249-254. doi:10.3344/kjp.2016.29.4.249
  • Ibrahim MM, Porreca F, Lai J, Albrecht PJ, Rice FL, Khodorova A, Davar G, Makriyannis A, Vanderah TW, Mata HP, Malan TP Jr. CB2 cannabinoid receptor activation produces antinociception by stimulating peripheral release of endogenous opioids. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Feb 22;102(8):3093-8. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0409888102
  • Khedr EM, Omran EAH, Ismail NM, El-Hammady DH, Goma SH, Kotb H, Galal H, Osman AM, Farghaly HSM, Karim AA, Ahmed GA. Effects of transcranial direct current stimulation on pain, mood and serum endorphin level in the treatment of fibromyalgia: A double blinded, randomized clinical trial. Brain Stimul. 2017 Sep-Oct;10(5):893-901. doi: 10.1016/j.brs.2017.06.006

Kristi Pahr is a freelance health and wellness writer and mother of two who spends most of her time caring for people other than herself. She is frequently exhausted and compensates with an intense caffeine addiction. Her work has appeared in Good Housekeeping, Real Simple, Men’s Health, and many others.



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