Step by Step: New Research on Running High

The 511 / March 12, 2021

For information in the 20th century, we called 411. The 511 includes: 

  • a handful of paragraphs about health tech or some other science-y thing
  • 1 sentence for reflection (and maybe a laugh), and 
  • 1 track I’ve currently got in heavy rotation.

Welcome to the seven people who started following my blog these past couple of weeks.

This your brain on marijuana—I mean, running

“So I hear you’re on the track team,” Jimmy asked me, back in high school.
“That’s right.”
“And when we played baseball together,” he noted, “what was the worst part of practice?”
“Batting practice,” I said. “Especially when you were hitting.” I smiled.
“Funny,” Jimmy snorted. “Besides batting practice, then.”
“Jogging, I suppose.”
“Exactly,” he snapped. “And what do you do all practice for track?”
“We … run?”
“And that’s what I don’t get,” Jimmy said, shaking his head. “I’ll never understand runners.”

Even if Jimmy was a total ass (which he was), he had a point. I ran track for two years and, in my junior year, I blew out my ACL. I was a sprinter, and we used to poke fun at the guys who ran x-country in the fall, and did distance events in the spring. We referred to Rob and Greg, with a nod to the song by the Rolling Stones, as “the boys with the far away eyes.” (The girl of the song hailed from Bakersfield, at the other end of the San Joaquin Valley from Stockton, my hometown.) New research explains that glassy-eyed look.

In a smart piece in the New York Times, Gretchen Reynolds explains the chemistry behind “the runner’s high.” For years, we attributed that look to naturally produced endorphins. Endorphins, though, don’t cross the blood-brain barrier.

In the study, runners developed a gentle intoxication, known as a runner’s high, even if researchers had blocked their bodies’ ability to respond to endorphins, suggesting that those substances could not be behind the buzz. Instead, the study suggests, a different set of biochemicals resembling internally homegrown versions of cannabis, better known as marijuana, are likely to be responsible.

Getting to the Bottom of the Runner’s High

While I understood the difference between my brain in season (calm-ish, focused-ish) vs. out of season (oh, goodness), this study reveals what happens when we lace up our running shoes (or light up medical Mary Jane): “Similar in chemical structure to cannabis, the cannabinoids made by our bodies surge in number during pleasant activities, such as orgasms, and also when we run, studies show. They can cross the blood-brain barrier, too, making them viable candidates to cause any runner’s high.”

Pain modulation, anti-inflammation, and other contributors to well-being (source: Cure Pharmaceutical).

Dogs served as test subjects in this study, and they derive the same effect from a good run. Over the winter, here in Ohio, I run intermittently with Seamus, our Wheaten Terrier, and sometimes attach his leash to my bike for a 1.5 mile loop. On occasion, he’ll surprise me, and set a blistering pace. Researchers tested human runners with a 45-minute run, so I’m uncertain whether interval training, or shorter workouts, can flood the mind and body with naturally occurring cannabinoids and, in turn, increase euphoria and decrease anxiety. (I wonder, too, if say California hit peak marijuana use during 2020 — for a host of reasons — and whether there’s a downturn in that market.)

One more note on fitness and FitBits (and equivalent): they may come in handy for early diagnoses of neurodegenerative disease. A recent study in Canada finds that “Increased gait variability may reflect the progression of cognitive impairment in neurodegenerative diseases, and potentially with specificity for Alzheimer’s disease dementia.” If they’re not designed with this feature now, they may be soon.

5(1)1 — On key opinion leaders

“Crank — a man [sic] with a new idea until it succeeds.”

Mark Twain
51(1) — In rotation: The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “May This Be Love”

Twenty years after the May 1967 UK release of this LP (August in the US), Rolling Stone magazine tallied its 100 fave LPs over the last 20 years. Hendrix’s debut album was in the top 6. I listened to it often as an undergraduate and after, but then it slipped away from me. “May This Be Love” shows the softer side of Hendrix, whose vision on this album — from virtuoso to arranger — still elicits awe.

The French LP cover, 1967.

Please share this post with someone you know who’s interested in health, leadership, and music.

I’m also on this thing called Twitter (@randaldoane). While it may be a passing fad, let’s connect, just in case it proves enduring.

If you want to talk about branding and marketing in medtech, or a newsletter that needs more pop, drop me a line over here.


Sources: see links embedded above.

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Published by Randal Doane

Living the good life in NE Ohio. I dig science and the written word. Let's build something amazing together.

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