What Are Endogenous Opioids?

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on

Endogenous opioids are those opioids that we as humans produce naturally within our bodies. These opioids, such as endorphins, combat pain and stress much in the same way that opioid drugs do.

What Are Endogenous Opioids? | ARK Behavioral Health

The word endogenous means “from the body” and endogenous opioids are exactly that— opioids that people (and some animals) produce from within their own bodies.

These opioids are made and regulated from within the pituitary gland.

The most well-known endogenous opioids are endorphins. In fact, the word “endorphin” is a combination of the words “endogenous” and “morphine”.

These bodily produced chemicals work to relieve stress and pain, much like prescription opioids.

How Do Endogenous Opioids Work?

Endogenous opioids were first discovered by scientists in the 1980s when they found that the body had special receptors that bind specifically to opioids.

Soon after, they discovered that the body also produced its own chemicals to bind to these receptors. The result was a blockage in pain and an increase in pleasure — behaving much the same way that medicinal opioids do.

The results from endogenous opioids are much less obvious and dramatic than those from prescription opioids, but they are still able to produce a natural “high”.

Unlike prescription opioids, though, the highs from endogenous ones are perfectly safe and non-addictive.

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Are Endogenous Opioids Necessary?

Endogenous opioids are very important to humans. Without them, our experience of pain and stressful emotions would be very different. In fact, being low on endogenous opioids can be harmful to one’s health.

Disorders associated with low endogenous opioids include:

  • depression
  • fibromyalgia
  • chronic headaches
  • anxiety
  • addiction
  • insomnia
  • moodiness

An individual who is low on endogenous opioids such as endorphins may be more susceptible to addiction, and particularly addiction to prescription opioids.

They may be looking to experience the euphoria that endorphins cause but which they naturally lack.

Ways To Naturally Release Endogenous Opioids

Fortunately, for those who are low on endogenous opioids such as endorphins, there are quite a few easy and enjoyable ways to boost these natural opioids within the body.

Ways to release endogenous opioids (endorphins) include:

  • exercise
  • meditation
  • sex
  • listening to music
  • spending time with loved ones
  • laughter
  • giving back through charity or volunteering
  • eating spicy foods and chocolate

All of the items on this list are activities that are known to feel good and make people happy. They produce a natural euphoria with the help of endorphins and no drugs or prescriptions are needed.

Are Endogenous Opioids Dangerous?

Endogenous opioids come without the risk of addiction or overdose and are generally considered healthy and safe. In fact, they can be beneficial in many ways.

Benefits of endogenous opioids include:

  • reduce pain
  • relieve stress
  • alleviate depression and other mental disorders
  • boost self-esteem
  • regulate your weight
  • help with pain during childbirth

Without endogenous opioids like endorphins people would experience a lot more pain and sadness. These types of opioids are truly needed as a basic coping mechanism in our everyday lives.

Finding Addiction Treatment For Opioid Abuse

While endogenous opioids are perfectly safe and beneficial in many ways, other types of opioids can unfortunately lead to addiction and substance use disorders.

If you or a loved one is currently struggling with opioid addiction, we would love to help.

By calling our helpline we can connect you to:

Recovery is possible, and getting started is just a phone call away.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on
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