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Outside » Outside Features

Recreational Drugs: Scientific support for addiction

Scientific support for addiction

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It's Monday morning and I'm sitting at my computer. According to Doug Weber, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Pendleton, "For the whole area, today is going to be the last nice day in the current forecast." The equinox came and went last week, daylight is waning, and it could be snowing in Bend when you read this. Youch. Time to move to the southern hemisphere... or turn to drugs.

Somehow the conversation turned to drugs at the Bend Roots Revival last Friday night. I know no one will believe me, but I've never dropped acid, snorted anything up my nose or even smoked pot. OK, I did puff on a joint once a long time ago, but I didn't actually inhale. Instead, these are my recreational drugs of choice:

BETA-ENDORPHIN

My favorite drug, by far, is beta-endorphin. I'm an addict and I admit it. According to Wikipedia, beta-endorphin is an "endogenous opioid peptide neurotransmitter found in the neurons of both the central and peripheral nervous system." It is the body's natural painkiller, 80 times more potent than morphine.

The notion of a surge in endorphin levels resulting in a "runner's high" has been discussed for decades, but only in 2008 did scientific researchers validate the concept.

A team of German scientists, led by Dr. Henning Boeker, used PET scans to measure endorphin activity in the brains of 10 runners at rest and after a two-hour run. They also asked the runners to rate their mood, including their level of euphoria. The results of this study showed that:

1. Endorphins were produced during exercise.

2. The amount of endorphins produced in the brain matched the degree of the mood change reported by the runner.

3. There is such a thing as a happy German.

In other words, Exercise = Endorphins = Euphoria.

Bet you didn't know that endorphins were discovered from the pituitary glands of camels, which might explain the smile on Joe Camel's face better than nicotine.

I know some athletes who are more into adrenaline, also known as epinephrine. Adrenaline junkies like to speed ski, BASE jump and huck themselves over waterfalls. They tend to star in Warren Miller movies. Adrenaline is the "fight or flight" hormone, which dilates the blood vessels and stimulates the heart rate in stressful situations, creating a sense of exhilaration, unless you are a wimp like me, who gets a pit in her stomach at the top of Marshmallow.

VITAMIN D

Vitamin D is a group of fat-soluble prohormones, the two major forms of which are vitamin D2 (or ergocalciferol) and vitamin D3 (or cholecalciferol). Vitamin D is obtained from food, supplements and sun exposure. Its major role is to increase the flow of calcium in the bloodstream, is important for bone health, but also has an effect on mental health.

In a 1998 controlled experiment, Australian researchers gave 44 subjects 400 IU Vitamin D3, 800 IU Vitamin D3 or a placebo for five days during late winter in a random double-blind study. Results showed that vitamin D3 enhanced positive effect a full standard deviation and there was some evidence of a reduction in negative effect. The authors concluded, "Vitamin D3 deficiency provides a compelling and parsimonious explanation for seasonal variations in mood." Which is interesting, because I thought Aussies were just happy all the time.

After all, sunshine = Vitamin D = euphoria.

CHOCOLATE

Chocolate, which must be administered orally, causes the release of neurotransmitters - not only endorphins, but also some really good stuff like serotonin and phenylethylamine (PEA). Serotonin is the body's natural anti-depressant. PEA works like amphetamines, elevating blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar levels leading to feelings of excitement and alertness. PEA is what you feel when you fall in love.

So, eating a square of Ghirardelli's 60 percent cacao dark chocolate can be like going for a long run in the sunshine with a great blind date. Hmmmm, I'll take both.

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