Endorphins and You Part I – What the heck makes them so important!


Everyone that’s had something to do with drugs has heard about endorphins. They’re the “happy chemicals” in your brain that block pain. They’re also produced during certain acupuncture techniques, produce the “high” joggers get, and of course, what makes SEX worth all that trouble!

Another aspect however, though related to drug use (especially opiates), but not as well known to the “general public”, is the role endorphins play in the brain and in basic mental functioning.

That is, most people understand that Endorphins have “something” to do with why we go thru withdrawal and also the pleasure involved but do not understand their function and importance in being basically “normal”, well, alive and human.

I feel that this information is very important, and this article touches briefly on topics which are related to drug use and also gives a wider, broader picture of just what endorphins are and what they do. Hopefully I’ll be able to expand on these topics and others in further articles.

It should first be understood that endorphins are naturally occurring peptides (or proteins) produced by the body and that all proteins are made from amino acids.

Amino acids are very common – they come from the food we eat, and some are also naturally produced by the body. However, what determines the kind of protein or proteins involved is the sequence or order of amino acids, which are strung and connected together like pearls on a necklace. So – nothing fancy here, we’re talking about basic body stuff – it’s just that we’re focusing on proteins that we’re just beginning to understand and get a handle on.

As medical science is finding out, endorphins play an extremely important part in the “normal” functioning of the brain. They are responsible for a staggering number of behaviors and the regulation of metabolic cycles. One medical article, in describing just what it is they are responsible for, said to it would be better and quicker “to describe what they are not responsible for!”

After further research had been done, endorphins then became classified as “neuro-modulators” or chemicals that affect the very chemistry of the brain itself – neurotransmitters, hormones, and vital enzymes – which affect mood, thinking and behaviors at a very basic level.

In the very beginning of endorphin research, researchers became interested in learning if the pathways between morphine / heroin and some endorphins were related, and then later this connection became clearly demonstrated.

For example, in one famous experiment in Formosa, opiate addicts who had been incarcerated due to their drug use were placed in a medical setting and given 30 milligram shots of morphine three times a day for three weeks, to stabilize the level of opiates in their system. After that time (boy, what a way to do time huh?!), they were given a saline or straight salt solution without their knowledge – they thought they were still getting their “fix” – the point being to bring them into an acute state of opiate withdrawal. This went on for around 30 hrs. Of course, the “guinea pigs” began to flip, a few left, and another held a knife to a nurse’s throat till he got his shot. (Scientist sometimes, you know, they just don’t get it!) Anyway, those who stayed and were “proven” to be in a bad state of withdrawal were given an endorphin quite prevalently produced by the body, called beta-endorphin (or B-endo, for short!).

Now, ALL of the “patients” then proceeded to come out of withdrawal; that is, they were NO LONGER in pain, able to sleep and eat; and, most interesting of all, they reported that they all felt a “definite opiate feeling” and that it was “better” (in terms of euphoria, feeling good etc.) THAN WHAT THEY WERE PREVIOUSLY GIVEN – that is, the previous shots of morphine.

Now think about this – the point of the “experiment” was to determine if morphine/heroin shared the same metabolic pathways as endorphins, the hypothesis being that if B- endo brought addicts out of withdrawal then endorphins and opiates DID share a common pathway or effect (and quite nicely, I might add!).

So, the experiment showed that B-endo, a NATURAL body protein, produced a natural “high” that was better than morphine and was capable of bringing you out of withdrawal.

It would seem to me, at this point, that research would have continued into avenues involved with using endorphins rather than the regularly prescribed “medically endorsed alternatives”, which all too many of us know full well the short-comings and inefficiency of.

But it didn’t. (The plot thickens, so stay with me here!)

It should be remembered that by no means has medical science been able to say that it fully understands the complexity involved with endorphins – more and more is been discovered every day. But that B-endo did what it did, is a definite.

So, we’ve seen a partial picture of the “plus side” of using endorphins. Let’s take a grimmer view on what happens when we are NOT getting enough of them.

In The Brain – a wonderful book written by Dr. T. Rozsack, which was eventually made into a wonderful BBC documentary – there was information about further research which had been done to psychologically profile those people who were considered “endorphin deficient”. The research showed that those people seemed to feel the “feelings of rejection and depression along with physical pain, much keener and longer than ‘normal‘ human beings”.
To further substantiate these findings, an interesting experiment had been done in Israel. An autopsy had been performed on the brains of eleven young people who had committed suicide – youth who had no prevailing physical problems which would not have “naturally” predisposed them to consider suicide in the “normal” course of events. Of those eleven, the brains of ten were found to have a nine-fold increase in endorphin receptors over “normal human brains”. (Receptors are where the chemicals on a cell “link up”. When you get high on dope, those chemicals link at those sites in the same way, and bingo, you get “high”, see??!!).

So, this is a very significant finding – significant because the brain, when it considers itself to be “deficient” in something, can actually create more receptors to make up for the perceived lack. Or it could mean that the brain actually needs nine times more endorphins than the “usual” amount, and therefore a correlation could be drawn between what is seen as a deficiency and the attributing psycho-biological factors that contributed towards suicide among these youths.

This is heavy stuff.

I’m sure all of us are aware of the absolutely horrendous depression that comes with “getting off of dope” and trying to get your life back together and why that so often doesn’t seem to work for very long!

Paradoxically, it was when I had done this and other research, that I was able to get a better handle on my own drug use. Once I understood how addiction is not just a medical problem but something that is “hard-wired” into the brain and, hence, into our behaviors (which goes a long way in explaining why “addiction” cuts thru all barriers – racial, economic or social), it showed me that addiction has nothing to do with “individuality, mentality, or willpower” – and everything to do with your nervous system saying “give-me-give-me, give-me!” at something like 2,000 times a second! (Don’t quote me here. Different conditions affect neural transmission; but, believe me, it’s FAST!)

The two points I want to bring out here are that endorphins are completely capable of substituting for other “opiate drugs” – morphine, heroin and the like, including – the best of all! – Methadone!

The other point is that enough research has been done to show a predisposition towards depression and suicide is part of the psychological profile for “endorphin deficient” human beings. But all too often, addicts are prescribed synthetic chemicals known as SSRI’s, like Prozac, Zoloft, etc., which supposedly “raise” the amount of a neurotransmitter in the brain called Serotonin, but have absolutely nothing to do with the inherent cause of the depression we may feel, the depression inherent in those people who are endorphin deficient.

The fact that pharmaceutical companies are making millions of dollars a day on SSRI’s alone may have something to do with this, gee, gosh, golly, I don’t know.

Ok – so, why aren’t doctors prescribing simple, cheap, inexpensive, safe proteins that the body naturally creates? And why aren’t they being used instead of methadone, which is toxic for the body, is actually five times more addictive, with withdrawal symptoms much worse than the opiates it “substitutes” for ?

Simple – money.

Pharmaceutical companies simply CAN NOT legally make a buck from something naturally produced, to the same degree that they can with drugs they came up with. They can patent how the chemical may be made, but the product itself, nope, sorry, no money in it.

And once again we come back to preserving the status quo. Which includes the money made from incarcerating drug users, rehabs, detoxes, etc..It’s one big, heavy monster which, sadly enough, like The God Chronos,feeds on it’s own children.

Another issue which I would definitely like to expand on (hopefully in Part II) is the actual workings of opiates. This involves the areas of the brain endorphins link to, why we develop the “psychological need” for opiates, and how those chemicals are associated with an area of our brain that is intrinsically involved in what makes us the wonderful humans we are. (Hopefully!).

To site one significant finding that I find very pertinent, Beta-endorphin is one of the most commonly produced endorphins by the body. It is commonly secreted during breast feeding – mothers milk is high in it (ever notice the completely “zoned out” look babies get during/after being fed? well, they’re getting high on it those rascals!), it’s crucial for pain and stress treatment / management by our bodies, and acupuncture has been proven to cause a direct increase in “B-endos”.

But what I find to be particularly and personally poignant is where “B-endos” are found in their highest concentration – in our tears!. You know the feeling you get after a “good cry”? Well, that’s our favorite endorphin!

I think we’ve all cried enough bitter tears over our drug use!

Jails and prisons are NOT the answer!

There are a number of endorphins that we already know of and more are being discovered every day. Their role in our well-being is being better understood and, I think, will eventually be accepted as a natural part of our pharmacopoeias.

But how do we change all this now? What will make it possible for us to walk into a doctor’s office and walk out with a prescription that will work for us in our hands? In order for all this to change, what would it take??

My personal feelings are that, at this point, all we can do is to keep plugging on. I think that by deploying / bombarding the “medical / legal establishment” with more and more relevant information and medical research solidly based, we would stand not only on “firmer ground” but make a much better chance for change. Believe me! There already exist a number of safer, better and cheaper alternatives! Hopefully one day, with that knowledge in our hands, we will start a movement that will begin to make “sense” not only to the doctors and those in the legal profession, but to the ‘average joe / jane tax-payers.’

More and more, people are beginning to realize that incarceration for drug users is not only wrong, but is expensive and doesn’t work. Hopefully they’ll begin to understand not only the huge personal expense paid, but also that the financial costs that just don’t add up towards anyone’s favor.

Offering new medical alternatives would go a long way towards convincing the public to keep the “issue” of addiction where it belongs – in the medical field and OUT of the criminal one.

Thanx for reading this. Hope it’s shown you endorphins in a “new light” and given you a new interest in their relevancy. And to anyone out there reading this who does not look upon the “whole” issue of addiction with any understanding or has a harsh reaction to “addicts”, I pray I may have helped them look on the whole thing with a little more compassion. Hopefully!

Bye for now. Remember– please be “safe” and happy out there!

FS. is a man, who has been privilged to walk as a human, on this beautiful Earth, beneath the Moon and the Heavens, and who has a enduring love / penchant for the transcendent.