Some science behind the scenes
Endorphins are endogenous opioid peptides that function as neurotransmitters. The term "endorphin" consists of two parts: endo- and -orphin; these are short forms of the words endogenous and morphine, intended to mean "a morphine-like substance originating from within the body."
They are produced by the pituitary gland and released into the blood and from the hypothalamus where they are released into the spinal cord the body as a whole and the brain. And endorphins are opioids.
How they work
β-endorphin has the highest affinity for the μ1 opioid receptor, slightly lower affinity for the μ2 and δ opioid receptors and low affinity for the κ1 opioid receptors. But essentially opioids provide pain relief [analgesia], sedation, relief from anxiety and a ‘high’ feeling not dissimiar to opium. You cannot compare the feeling to morphine [and in no way is it similar to heroin] because endorphins are better and more targeted than morphine. Morphine affects the kappa receptor which has many unpleasant side effects. Endorphins don’t.
A summary of the effects in relation to their contribution to spiritual experience is shown in the chart below.
Endorphins thus resemble the opiates in their abilities to produce analgesia and a feeling of well-being. And of course they are quite probably addictive in the sense that once we have experienced a truly great ‘endorphin high’ we want yet more, we want to get it again and again.
Classically, μ-opioid receptors are presynaptic, and inhibit neurotransmitter release. Through this mechanism, they have an effect on memory and learning, our cognitive processes really slow down and we become far more open to composer input.
Furthermore, endorphins disinhibit the dopamine pathways, causing more dopamine to be released – which explains why we get euphoria and pleasure.
Endorphins can, at high enough doses, have knock on effects, μ-opioid receptors are presynaptic, and inhibit neurotransmitter release. Through this mechanism, they inhibit the release of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA. They thus have the same effect as GABA antagonists, a feature which serves to befuddle the reasoning process on a temporary basis and also inhibits memory.
Endorphin is a drug. It is a naturally produced drug, but it is a drug nevertheless and furthermore it is an opioid. It is a drug that produces, as a side effect, dopamine. The combination of opioids and dopamine produce a state that is akin to drug addiction. Any form of high intensity/high dose usage of endorphins produces cravings and withdrawal symptoms equal to those induced by opium.
And they are truly terrible.
Just like opioid addiction, you need far greater inputs of the activity that released the endorphins to keep the pleasure levels high. As with all dopamine related drugs, as time goes on the brain adapts to the excessive input of the dopamine in order to stop the victim becoming mentally ill and a form of tolerance starts to develop. As in any drug user, however, the desire for the drug does not go away and the victim needs more and more dopamine to get the high, and withdrawal symptoms can become extreme.
If you stop the activity that releases the endorphins at this level for whatever reason you suffer symptoms not unlike that of opiate withdrawal and they can be truly terrible. The following list is genuine – take it seriously:
- muscle cramps, muscle twitches and spasms, aching muscles, aching bones, severe pains in the bones and muscles of the back and extremities,
- dreadful fatigue, yawning
- perspiration and profuse sweating, hot flashes, flushing and then chills or cold flashes.
- excessive uncontrollable crying and runny nose
- dilated pupils (midriasis), floaters, difficulty seeing
- appetite loss with considerable subsequent weight loss, after some time there can be problems with weight control in either direction
- elevation of blood pressure, hypertension, tachycardia (elevated pulse). In acute cases, both systolic and diastolic blood pressure increases and heart rate increases,which has the potential to cause a heart attack, blood clot, or stroke.
- nausea and vomiting
- involuntary ejaculation, which is often painful
- increased sensitivity to pain – this can be really dreadful, even the slightest wound can be agonisingly painful and anything more serious can be almost unbearable
In time the withdrawal symptoms may disappear, may…… but the craving won’t. The craving never really goes. Once you’ve been to heaven, you always want to go back.
Endorphins are addictive.