The Myth of Endorphins

October 8, 2015

Have you ever cited the endorphin high you get after wearing yourself out in class or rehearsal as a reason why you love to move? Turns out, that feeling of relaxation you get after making your body work likely has nothing to do with endorphins at all.

Tiler Peck in Balanchine’s Theme and Variations, a ballet that surely results in a major endocannabinoid high. Photo by Paul Kolnick via NYCB.

A new study
shows that the pleasant sensation induced by exercise is probably produced by a totally different chemical, endocannabinoids. That word may look familiar to you—they are, in fact, the body’s version of the chemical in marijuana.

So far, studies on this phenomenon have only been done on mice. Even if it is proven to be the case for humans as well, it probably won’t have much affect on our daily lives. (Except that “endocannabinoids” is much harder to say than “endorphins.”) But, as the New York Times article reporting on the study says: “More broadly encouraging, though, the results should remind us that, like mice, we were built through evolution to be in motion.” Sometimes science is poetic!