May 29, 2009

Do You Get High?

So this is not a post about illegal drug use, though goodness knows I have some opinions*** about that.

Nope, sorry, this post is not about that kind of getting high. It's mostly about the wholesome, socially acceptable, completely legal "exercise" kind of high.

When I first started running, I was only 17 years old. So naturally the prospect of a "runners high" was quite intriguing! As I recall I got there sometimes--nothing earth-shattering at first, but definitely a bit of a dreamy, buzzy, euphoric feeling.

Now, more than 30 years later, I still find myself chasing and sometimes achieving the "high." While often it's not all that different from a slighty trippy "very good mood," other times it can be downright intense.

In fact a couple of days ago I had one of those "OMG I am SO HIGHHH!!!! episodes at the gym, and I'm sure people nearby must have thought I'd spiked my water bottle with Ecstasy--I was grinning like an idiot, dancing around on my elliptical machine, and even giggling a little because I sometimes I just couldn't help it.

Is there a secret formula for achieving an endorphin high from exercise? Well, I don't know if it would work for everyone, but I've found that for me: yes there is!

And in some ways the secret is sort of like the "one rule for a flat stomach": it involves cheating.

Can Everyone Get High From Exercise?
My sense is that perhaps not everyone is wired to achieve this, or at least not easily. I was surprised, for example, reading this New York Times article about "Runner's High," that there has always been a bunch of skepticism about it, and scientists have only recently even managed to prove that a "high" exists. And all the examples they cited tended to be of people doing something incredibly intense, or exercising for really long periods of time (like hours), running marathons or whatever.

Note: I do not perform aerobic exercise for hours at a time. Nor do I achieve the sort of intensity they're talking about with the half-assed interval training I make myself do. So I suspect most people's brains need more coaxing than mine does.

Crabby's Secret Recipes For an Exercise High
These will of course will not work for many of you, due to health, religious, or logistical reasons, or because your brains work differently. I have two different recipes for two different kind of "highs."

Even following the recipe, I don't get results every single time--otherwise, I wouldn't have any problem motivating to get to the gym. Also, the "highs" rarely hit more for more than a few minutes at a time, maybe two or three times during a lucky workout.

Intense Body-Slammin' Recipe:

1. I drink coffee beforehand. (This is the cheaty part). However, I drink a big cup of coffee every morning and yet do not wander around in a constant state of euphoria, so it's clearly only part of the process.

2. I choose a reliable high-inducing form of exercise. For the intense kind of high, I need something bouncy that allows me to propel my whole body up and down--like a step aerobic class or an elliptical machine. Dancing is good too. A bicycle ride, while fun, will not get me high.

3. I bring tunes. Music, for me, is critical. I must have a playlist with at least a few songs I absolutely LOVE, going at exactly the right speed.

4. Helpful hormones. Ladies, you know that part of the cycle where you're a bit amped anyway? This seems to be the best time for getting high.

5. Decent Mood. Being a cranky sort, it's easy to let myself get irritated by crowded gyms, hot temperatures, badly maintained equipment, etc. If I want to get high, I have to consciously remind myself that while I can't necessary control the thing that's annoying me, I can control my own feelings about it and choose to let it go. If I choose to stay annoyed, I won't get a buzz.

6. I start moving to the music, and hope for the best!

Like I said, it doesn't happen every time. But if the caffeine peaks at the right time, and the songs sound extra good, and I'm flying around to the rhythm (bobbing my head seems to help...) it can happen any time, usually after 10 or 15 minutes. A frequent trigger is a tune where the music is building and building towards a chorus and I know it's coming and I know how much I love it and I feel this gathering energy getting more and more powerful...

And then WHAM.

Seriously, for me it's an incredible rush. It's a burst of energy and joy--but also a weird liquid feeling somewhere in the base of my skull... I can actually feel it spreading upwards, seeping into the rest of my brain. I smile almost involuntarily, (and sometimes giggle) and squint my eyes together, and I just feel so GOOD! I just keep pounding away and dancing a bit and try to gather up all my senses and enjoy it while it lasts. Alas, eventually it fades but it usually fades into a pretty darned good mood. And on a good day it will often come back a couple more times before I'm done.


Mellower Trippy Recipe
This second variation is also enjoyable, though not as intense. However, I find it easier to achieve and it's what makes me eager to go running even though I know I'm trashing what I have left of the cartilage in my knees. Heck, it's worth it.

1. Coffee beforehand. (Always)

2. Choose appropriate exercise: this time, running or hiking--something aerobic that can be performed outdoors.

3. Good music. Beat is important, but "mood" is also a crucial issue for this kind of high. The goal is a more trancey feeling, so music that's intricate and beautiful and puts me in an energetic but contemplative frame of mind works better than mindless pop. Unless it's unusually awesome mindless pop.

4. A beautiful outdoor trail.

5. Weather that's not hot and miserable. (However, I've had some running highs in cold and rainy weather... go figure).

6. Start running and hope for the best!

This kind of high sneaks up gradually and is more mellow. Colors seem extra crisp and bright, and things seem a bit dreamy and unreal--I often have to double-check that I'm not asleep and dreaming. There is a feeling of well-being and peace that's noticeably more intense than I get when I'm not exercising. This "high" usually takes longer to achieve, but lasts longer as well.

(***And yes, I do have opinions about illegal drugs! Here's one: fer goodness sake, how could it be that we baby boomers have made it all the way to middle age and should be in control now and yet people still get put in JAIL for smoking pot? WTF is up with that? Does anyone else think it might finally be time to legalize marijuana, tax it, and free up some much needed law enforcement resources for actual bad guys? Sure, some folks will abuse marijuana and cause themselves harm, much like other people abuse alcohol and tobacco and prescription pain killers and Twinkies to their own detriment. I'm just not sure the answer is to ban such potentially dangerous substances for everyone. It doesn't stop determined users anyway. Instead, how about using some portion of the new Pot Tax Revenue to fund treatment programs for those who need help? And just leave the medical and moderate users the hell alone since they're not bothering anyone?)

So do any of you like to get high, and if so, how do you get there?


  1. Yes I get the endorphin rush when pushing myself beyond a limit I didn't think I could reach. The feeling is similar to what you do Crabby with the uncontrollable urge to smile. I'm not sure that I have mastered a formula for getting there but just know that music is usually included.

    As for your rant on pot, I can agree that prohibition doesn't exactly work. We tried this in the 20s and look what happen there. The amount of revenue that could be added to the tax base would far outweigh the problems that are brought about by “those that know”. I also think the government's problem is that marijuana is too hard for law enforcement to determine use as opposed to alcohol when operating a motor vehicle. The old adage that pot will lead to heroin use hasn’t really panned out for the amount of casual weed smokers versus those that are junkies. If we wanted to follow that logic than mother’s milk was what really leads to the over the top drug abusers.

  2. HA! Crabby you always crack me up. I love tips. Reminds me I need to get more cardio in, get my buzz on (for the health benefits of course :)

    **fully agree on the footnote btw**

    Hope you have a great weekend!

  3. I dropped right to the bottom of the page and inhaled deeply. Please pass the cupcakes..

  4. I've felt uncommonly good after some strenuous hikes in the mountains. That's a close to an exercise high as I've gotten.

    As for the other, oh yeah. Make it legal and tax it. Booze is a far worse drug. And pot at least has some health benefits (glaucoma, appetite for chemo patients, good for insomnia, asthma, etc.)

  5. While never quite reaching the highs that you have, I agree that music is crucial - the fuse to the whole thing taking off. I know when I'm listening to Marc Anthony's "I Need to Know" I can practically do my workout in stilletos - you know, super-pumped (or super-pumps). Am looking forward to achieving cranky nirvana soon. Thanks for the tips.

  6. I've never gotten high off of exercise. Not that I remember anyway. OR, maybe I got so high that I don't even remember the workout?!? That would be cool, huh?

    And as for the other I tried it in college once (okay 3 times) but all it did was make me sleepy. Did I do it wrong?

  7. For me it's about letting myself go there. That is, instead of obsessively checking things like distance gone or Calories burned, I need to ignore that and just work on clearing my head. It works without the caffeine.

  8. Just what I needed to read this morning as I am trying to get going after a few down days feeling unwell and watching it rain copiously. I'm talking about your exercise method. :) So off to get some exercise!

  9. I'm all for your getting high system!

    As a physician, I feel there are several medical uses for marijuana that would benefit people, and it's foolish to prevent that due to archaic random laws.

  10. Pish tush, woman! The whole reason marijuana is still illegal is because the Authorities, in their wisdom, want to encourage people to try for a legal kind of high, like from exercise.

    Now that I know how cool it could be, I'm going to try for that kind of high ;)

  11. OOoh, yes, I puffyheart endorphins.

    For me, getting the workout high makes workouts the new sex! Well, sort of. It's like the orgasm without the actual orgasm part, just the climb and drop parts without the actual peak in the middle. Which is sort of weird, and completely freaked me out the first time it happened, but now... I love it.

    I can, actually, almost always get myself to that point.

    Again, it's music; my particular favorite song right now is Lady GaGa Just Dance or pretty much anything peppy from the 80s. (Danger Zone, Holding out for a Hero, Tarzan Boy, that kinda bouncy stuff) I put my iPod on and the music exists right at the base of my skull and pulses through my veins.

    I don't know if Caffeine helps or not... I'm almost always caffeinated! For me, it's heart rate. If I can push my heart rate up over 160 - 165 ish and hold it there for about 10 minutes, I'll get there. :D

    The worst for me is if I don't get there until near the end of my workout (like 25 minutes into a 30 minute session on the elliptical...) because I don't want to *quit* after that. I've been known to add an extra 10-15 minutes onto my session if I'm "running late..." Not, I suppose, that this is really a bad thing.

    Re: footnote: eeeeeh, I gave up all serious mood-altering substances quite a while ago. I'm one of those idiotic people who just cannot handle it. I get addicted to a lot of things, easily and quickly. But, since I have also gotten addicted to eating chicken, playing MMOs, and collecting comic books, I don't think my faulty brain should dictate what other people do. (Seriously, I was, for a while, eating chicken at Every Single Meal for the better part of three months... >.<)

  12. dragonmamma/naomiMay 29, 2009 at 9:16 AM

    I have two metabolic conditioning workouts a week that almost always get me high. My medicine-ball slam/somersault workout, and my jump-rope/sled push-pull-and-drag workout. Each only lasts about 15 minutes, but are super intense.

    As far as drug legalization, I call your marijuana and raise you ALL illegal drugs. Make EVERYTHING legal, then tax and regulate the hell out of it.

  13. Well sounds like it is time for me to drop some "E"s, E for exercise that is, lol!

    I don't think I have ever worked out intensly enough yet, but I did get a funny, grinny moment on the elliptical when some absolutely fabby music came on. Hmmmm, maybe... Will have to experiment a bit.

  14. For me, it will happen around the middle/toward the end of a cardio workout. At a point where I should be tiring out, I will start to feel unstoppable. I'm invincible! I can go forever! Which leads to me pushing harder, going longer...And these would be the times when I unfortunately end up overdoing it. At the time, though, it just feels awesome.

  15. Get high? From exercise? You know, pushing one part of the body to do some thing repetitively? Sweat dripping into the eyes? Fat butt into the air?


    Vee at

  16. Well, I recognize the second type. Perhaps that's because I'm more of a cyclist than a runner, or because I've never learned to like coffee (unless it's an ice cream flavor). Cycling is euphoric more often than not. It would be fun to experience the first one, though. Maybe some day.

    The drugs? Yes, legalize them, and stop wasting so much time & money trying to enforce the unenforceable, making it possible for a drunk to have a perfectly clean record & respect (on paper anyhow) while someone who just uses a little pot has a criminal record. Huh???

    Here's my concern, though. Is there a way to legalize it and tax it without handing it over to businesses to promote? 'Cause I don't think it does much harm, but I don't think it does most users (other than its medical side) a whole lot of good either, and I don't like the idea of giving anyone an interest in maximizing people's use. So if, I mean when, it's legal, who gets to distribute it? Can we prohibit advertising without triggering a bunch of free speech lawsuits? Can we eliminate, or at least minimize the profit motive? That is one of the biggest problems I see with illegal drugs: they inspire people with no conscience & no fear of a prison record to make their fortunes distributing them. Why just turn that role over to organizations that happen to be legal, but don't have much conscience either (say, tobacco companies)?

  17. Ah, then endorphin high. I used to get this a lot, back when I used to be fitter. Now that I am (once AGAIN) back on the exercise horse, I found myself complaining just the other day about not getting it, and not even getting the run-of-the-mill energy boost that you get after a workout. All I feel is tired. It'll come if I just stick with it though, and in fact it is starting to, when I do lighter workouts. Maybe I am just actually tiring myself out too much by doing too much too soon? My muscles and joints are handling it fine, but darn if I didnt use my sick day (which was for an eye appointment, not a full-body illness) on friday to take a 5 hour nap, then sleep for 12 hours that night. What's the deal with that?

    Anyway, back when exercise used to energize me, I too found caffeine to be helpful. I know it might be cheating, but caffeine is good for a lot of things, and there was that study a couple months ago about how much it boosts performance, and it is legal and prevents MS and stuff, so why not? From there, we kind of differ. I never really got high when listening to music. It's like I need to enter a trance state based solely on my own body and peaceful surroundings.

    The best high ever? AFTER some team sports related exercise, I decided to go for a quick jog on my high school track. Usually I ran about 3 miles a day, but that night I was just jogging, counting laps, and jogging, watching the stars come out, and I have never felt so good in my life. I accidentally ran 5 miles.

  18. In my dreams...

    I've never seemed to get that Runner's high. I always blame the altitude. But after nearly 10 years living up here, that's probably not a good excuse. : )

    I used to get an after-high when I played hockey. Nothing during the game, but afterwards I wouldn't be able to sit still or go to sleep. And considering we played at 11 o'clock at night? That was okay in college, not so much when I got a real job. *shrug*

    I have friends that talk about running and just having everything suddenly synch up and they zone out and run forever. Not me - it's a constant battle. 5 miles is torture whether on a treadmill or on a trail. I can do it, but I spend the last half playing the 5 year old on a car trip: "arewethereyetarewethereyetarewethereyet?" Running just isn't my thing. Never has been. But living in the sticks (no gyms) with winter 6 months of the year (swimming is out), it's the only reliable form of aerobic exercise I can get.

    My only comments on the other high? I think I'm one of the few folks left in civilization who's never tried an illegal drug. I'm wacky enough on my own k-thnx. :) But I'm with Anonymous a couple posts up - legalizing sounds good, but I think the logistics haven't been fully thought out.

  19. The only time I got the head rush, top-o-the-world, rockstar feeling was set to music, after running outdoors on a trail along Lake Erie for almost an hour in 55-60 degree weather. Before then, most of my cardio was from stationary bike while I played Little Big Planet on the PS3. I never got that same euphoric feeling.

    So, yeah, I think you're on to something.

    Sadly, the running blew my knees and I have stopped. I tried reproducing the effect by doing interval training on the bike. While I feel better than I did doing the bike the old way, it's just not the same thing.

    Not running is like losing a good lover.

    *sighs miserably*

  20. Only one time did I get anything even close to resembling a runner's high and that was at about mile 20 of a marathon (I slammed into the "wall" a mile later, but that's another story). I've been trying to repeat that for 7 years with no success, although I do have times while running when I feel fantastic.

    I wouldn't smoke anything now but I agree that pot should be legal, controlled and taxed. Admit it, we all inhaled.

  21. I think about the only time I ever get a high from physical activity is when I put on music and dance around (more like jump around) like a lunatic. Now that I think about it, that sounds like a fun activity for this afternoon...

  22. Hi Crabby,

    Not exactly high, but I always feel better after exercise!


  23. I've never thought about actually TRYING for the high, but sometimes I do get it. I don't drink coffee, or rarely, so it isn't that for me, but MUSIC sure helps!

  24. You know...weirdly, I get high while cycling. And then, inevitably, I'll end up 30 or 40 miles from home before it occurs to me that I should probably turn around. And then I completly bonk 15 miles from home ad I have to stop and eat cupcakes or scones until I regain my strength.

    So, yeah; it's like they say: Getting high too much can ultimately lead you to gain weight.

    And, ha! I kid you not: my word verification thingy is "diets".

  25. I definitely get a high off the weights! Love them & it is always fun for me. Cardio, I feel like I have accomplished something & especially with the high intensity intervals but not a high... I am just glad the cardio is over!!!

  26. i've had exercise highs, but rarely.

    as for the mythical (?) runner's high ... supposedly, if you run over a mile, you achieve it. brandon read something in ... i think runner's world ... that basically said the reason you feel better after that first mile (because, let's face it, the first mile of a run is ALWAYS the worst), you hit the high/break through the wall and can keep going.


  27. Ah yes...I get that when I run, when I dance and after a particularly vigourous cardio workout. A lot of times it's tied to music...good psytrance can kick it off very nicely...and it is glorious :)

    I call it Chemical #1 :)

    And yeah I agree with you...I think people get very worked up about a lot of drugs that aren't so much of the problem as the people that take them. If alcohol is legal and all the incredible problems are caused by it, why not figure out a way to manage things far less likely to cause life problems like pot. Other things that ARE addictive and can wreck your life, (that do compare in my mind to nicotine) and all should be kept from the general public...but leave the medical and moderate pot users alone. Honestly, other than being annoying gigglers in the movie theatre from time to time, I don't have a problem with them...I believe our society has far too many legalised drugs that cause as many problems. We need to find ways to be happy entirely on our, Oh, say, exercise :)

    Running High works for me :)

  28. That's the most positive post I've ever read here Cranky! I love it :-) I don't get high's the way you describe them, but mine are very common - each week on Saturday morning for example, almost every time I go for a run or just totally randomly when I'm around certain people. But then my low's are also pretty low so it all balances itself out. Have a great weekend!

  29. Love this post!

    I didn't think of it as a "high" exactly, but yep, I've felt that point when exercising in which it changes from "ugh, how much longer do I have to do this!" to "woo hoo! I could do this for the rest of the day! whaddaya mean I have to stop???" Even on a not-so-inspired workout day, I always feel great after exercising. And I must be "high" after every swim, because I get the munchies something awful. Conversely, I tend to feel anxious and sucky when I don't get exercise. Guess I'm addicted now.

    (Fully concur with the footnote, by the way.)

  30. I get high all the time (footnote), but nothing compares to the runner's high, which I've gotten once from running, twice from riding my bike first thing in the morning up a ginormous hill. I think we could wipe out a lot of our budget ills from taxing marijuana, and I actually think they do collect tax on that sold in the clubs. Huge cash economy, though, still. I have mixed feelings about legalizing some others, there's a lot of crack/crank/heroin around here, and they are not pretty nor harmless.

    On another note, before CA passed Prop 215 and the clubs were legal, I used to go to the club that started it, as my friend's housemate had cerebral palsy. You could look around and see that people were dying. It was not a party scene, like some might imagine. I have a friend with epilepsy, and the medicine makes him sick as a dog, but weed for whatever reason, really stabilizes his brain waves.

  31. Waaaaaiiiit a minute... Spring Girl is right. That is an awfully positive post to have come from the keyboard of Ms. Crabby McSlacker.

    Okay, 'fess up!

    Who are you and what have you done with the real Crabby???

  32. Oh man Cranky, you know what sucks? I get that high from eating brownie batter. A whole bowl.

    Darn it, I wish I could bounce/step/jog my way to a high!! I do, however, feel really strong and good after I do a session of strength training. Like way good!!

  33. Crabby. Not Cranky. My mistake. Did it make you cranky? I mean crabby?

  34. Swimming does it for me! I love to swim early, when I have the pool to myself and watch the sun rise as I glide through the water. Love it!

  35. Seriously! I figured you Boomers would have this all sorted out by now! Do you have any idea how much taxable, legal, and by-and-large harmless revenue could be generated through the northern part of California alone?!?!

    Alas, bourbon is still legal and weed is still not. Boggles the mind.

    Since it's illegal, and I'm terrified of breaking the law (evening speeding, fwiw), I do stick to the endorphin-style rush and afterglow. Do I get downright high? I don't think so. But everything sure gets...nice...

    Crabby, when can we nominate you for public office?

  36. I drink coffee every morning before exercise or not, and I have even pushed my poor battered soul to some extreme points in running distances and downright stupid exercising....I have never ever ever achieved the "high". Sometimes I thought maybe I got the runners high and just didnt notice, but I dont think it works that way. Dang it.

    Reference the other kind of getting high, I choose to abstain from comment.

  37. I tend to follow your recipe #2: running outside, for the greatest likelihood of getting into that euphoric state.

    For me, being outside is key. The colors and textures will go brighter and the sky does look more magical in this state. I liken it actually to the euphoric feeling of well being and love from taking e. Really. Not pot, though. That drug just makes me tired and stupid. Ultimately, it's just healthier and cheaper to just get out and run, though.

  38. Before exercise I was an anxious mess. I had been on anxiety pills during college. Once I started to exercise I was cured. All of my nervous energy was released and I got high to boot. lol. Running and teaching classes where I see students motivated does it for me too.

  39. It takes about 15 minutes to get in the groove, but if all systems are go (knees, toes, arms, etc), it's like a really good toke, without the munchies afterwards :)

  40. I have been running since high school as well and the first time I really felt that high was in the middle of a marathon. My friend actually caught it on tape. There is everyone around me, looking tired and exhausted and for some reason for about 5 miles I couldn't stop smiling. Full on grin. Course then it stopped and I was tired and exhausted for those last 7 miles.

    - Yasmin

  41. Yes, I get the endorphin rush sometimes. When I started out hiking, I got it a lot more regularly, and it was very strong -- felt like the top of my head was coming off but in a good way. A "whoosh" kind of way, if that makes any sense. :)

    After hiking regularly for a year and a half, though, I don't get the kind of endorphin rushes I used to. If I push myself very hard, I get endorphin surges, but I can't really call them rushes anymore. They just aren't as intense.

    But whether a rush or a surge, they always make me smile. :)

  42. Interesting blog. A very relevant, yet underplayed component to the issue of marijuana legalization is generational, which might well be a gamechanger. Obama, and many of his key appointees, are members of Generation Jones-—born 1954-1965, between the Boomers and Generation X. Many top national commentators (from Newsweek, NBC, CNN, etc.) have spoken about the importance of GenJones as the new generation of leadership; could be key re. the drug issue for at least two reasons:

    1) Jonesers are by far the biggest generation of pot smokers. While Boomers are associated with pot, it was only a small, albeit very visible, segment of Boomers who smoked pot back in the day. Many studies show that Jonesers as teens (in the 1970s) smoked 15 to 20 times more pot than Boomers did as teens, and more than any generation as teens. Even today--in middle-age--Jonesers still smoke it a remarkable amount. The data is striking.

    2) A key collective personality traits consistently attributed to Jonesers is their pragmatism; they are far likelier to put aside ideology and deal with drugs in a realistic and practical way.

    Here is an op-ed in USA TODAY about GenJones as the country's new leaders:

    If ever there was a generation of leadership open to legalizing pot, it probably is Generation Jones. And if there ever was a time that the country might be open to this, perhaps it’s now…

  43. Thanks, SharpEye! I never heard of generation Jones, yet I'm smack in the middle of it. Looking forward to reading more.

  44. It starts with coffee whats not to love?

  45. GenJones??? I have a label now?

    Yay!! (I think; perhaps I should smoke on it.)


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