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20 Ways to Combat Pain Naturally By Increasing Your Opioids

Written by Joe Cohen, BS | Last updated:

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medical marijuana

You don’t have to take hardcore pain killers to feel good. If you’ve already addressed some basics like eating a healthy anti-inflammatory diet and reducing your stress, but still need some strategies to increase your natural “high” and address some lingering pain, this post is for you.

A Basic Intro To Your Brain’s Opioid System

The brain opioid systems help regulate motivation, emotion, attachment behavior, hunger and satiety, and how one responds to stress and pain [1].

There are four major opioid receptors in our brain:

  • mu-opioid (MOR)
  • delta-opioid (DOR)
  • kappa-opioid (KOR)
  • nociceptin (NOR)

Increasing these receptors or the molecules that bind to them will produce an opioid high and reduce pain.

Mu-Opioid Receptors (MOR)

Mu activation may cause: sedation, pain relief, slowed breathing, lowered blood pressure, and euphoria.

Morphine is an example of a Mu-Opioid activator. Endorphins also activate Mu-Opioid Receptors.

Negative side effects may include itching, nausea, and constipation [2].

Delta-Opioid Receptors (DOR)

Delta activation may cause: some pain relief (although less that of Mu-Opioid activation), increased BDNF in the brain, antidepressant effects, and reduction of TNF-α inflammation [34].

Cannabidiol (CBD) is an example of a Delta-Opioid activator [5].

Negative side effects may include seizures at high doses [5].

Kappa-Opioid Receptors (KOR)

Kappa activation may cause some pain relief, sedation, increased appetite, and increased urination (diuretic) [6].

Oxycodone, morphine, and menthol (found in peppermint oil), are examples of Kappa Opioid activators [6].

Negative side effects may include a bad mood (dysphoria), and in high dosages, hallucinations [6].

Nociceptin Opioid Receptor (NOR)

Nociceptin activation may include effects for chronic (not acute) pain relief [7].

It is also being studied for use in patients with Congestive Heart Failure and migraines [8].

Drugs are being studied to activate the Nociceptin Opioid Receptor for pain relief [9].

Negative side effects may include anxiety, depression, increased appetite, and increased acute pain [10].

23 Strategies for Pain Relief via Opioid Receptor Activation

The following either increase activation of our receptors, increase endorphins (activating our mu-opioid receptors), or make our opioid receptors more sensitive.

  1. Cold [11]
  2. High-intensity exercise [1213]
  3. Sleep [14]
  4. Sun/UVB [15, 16]
  5. Warm showers [11]
  6. Social interaction [17]
  7. Massages [18]
  8. Palatable foods [1920]
  9. Acupuncture [21]
  10. Magnesium [22, 23]
  11. Butyrate [24]
  12. Capsaicin/Chili pepper [25]
  13. Acidophilus [26]
  14. Melatonin [27]
  15. LLLT [28]
  16. Low dose naltrexone [29]
  17. Oxytocin [18]
  18. MarijuanaTHC/CBD [30]
  19. Poppy Seeds (Though rare, poppy seed tea consumption can be fatal. It also has the potential to be abused or lead to opiate dependence) [31, 32, 33, 34]
  20. Pregnenolone [35]

1) Take a Cold Shower

Intermittent swimming in cold water induces pain relief mechanisms that are mediated by our opioid system. This works by acutely increasing stress [11].

Cold exposure also increases “Heat Shock Inducible Factor”, which increases mu and delta opioid receptors in experimental rats [36, 37].

Increasing these receptors makes our innate opioids more likely to bind to and activate them. Keep in mind that long-term or high dose use of opioids reduces the number of mu-opioid receptors [2].

2) Exercise More (Intensity matters)

Physical exertion can release opioids and is famously called the “runner’s high” [12].

Researchers have found that it’s the heavy weights or intense training that incorporates sprinting or other anaerobic exertion that produces effects. Light-to-moderate weight training or cardiovascular exercise doesn’t raise endorphins [13].

When your body crosses over from an aerobic state to an anaerobic state, it’s suddenly operating without enough oxygen to satisfy the muscles and cells start screaming out for it. This is when the “runner’s high” occurs [13].

Endorphins= (Endogenous morphine).

3) Sleep More

Sleep deprivation decreases the binding of mu and delta opioid receptors in the rat limbic system, lessening our body’s natural pain relief and feelings of pleasure.

Getting adequate sleep allows our bodies to keep pain in check [14].

4) Get Some Sun

Most of us just feel better when we get some sun. In fact, excessive sun tanning can lead to an addiction. Even low-dose UV light exposure increases your skin’s ability to produce endorphins, which go to your bloodstream [15, 16].

There’s no need to overdo it. A 1/2 hour of full body sun will contribute to higher endorphins and help lessen your pain response without increasing your risk for skin cancer. If you can’t get sun for whatever reason, then you can use a UVB light, which will also help your body produce vitamin D.

UVA doesn’t seem to increase endorphins [38].

5) Take a Warm Shower/Bath

We all know that a warm shower does wonders for our mood.

Mice who took a short swim in warm water were found to have increased beta-endorphins as well as a reduction of pain [11].

6) Hang Out With Friends (Social Interaction)

It turns out that the same part of the brain that is active in drug addiction is also stimulated by positive social interaction. Is it any wonder why we are addicted to spending time with others?

A 2011 study of adolescent rats found that it is the stimulation of mu-opioid receptors in the nucleus accumbens (part of the “reward circuit”) that accounts for the positive value given to social interactions [17].

In another study, a surgery that resulted in nerve damage was performed on mice who were either living alone or with a companion. Some were subjected to stress before the operation as well.

Those who had had a companion mouse beforehand showed fewer signs of pain and inflammation.

Isolated mice with nerve damage had much higher levels of IL-1B in their brain. The Interleukin-6 production in mice that were not stressed was lower than in mice that were stressed.

According to Professor of Neuroscience, Courtney DeVries, leader of the study at Ohio State University,

“We believe that socially isolated individuals are physiologically different from socially paired individuals, and that this difference seems to be related to inflammation”

7) Get a Massage

Massage-like stroking, given intermittently, induces increasing anti-pain effects, which is mediated by the love and trust molecule, oxytocin [18].

Oxytocin interacts with the opioid system, especially the mu– and the kappa-receptors in the brain [18].

8) Eat Tasty Foods

Studies have shown that intake of palatable food stimulates the mu opiate receptors in the basal ganglia – part of the body’s reward circuit.

The fact that highly palatable foods are so readily available in recent years likely contributes to growing rates of obesity.

Palatable food is thought to work via the opioid system creating food addictions for some [1920].

16 Healthy volunteers perceived pain less (cold-induced) after they eat, with a great reduction in pain from a high-fat meal [39].

Women, but not men, who consumed the palatable sweet food showed increased pain tolerance compared with those receiving the unpalatable food, neutral food or no food [40].

9) Try Acupuncture

Our innate opioids play an important role in acupuncture’s effectiveness.

In general, acupuncture works by influencing the release and synthesis of opioids and regulating the function and expression of their receptors [21].

You could try this acupressure mat.

10) Take Magnesium

Studies show that magnesium amplifies the pain-relieving effect of low-dose morphine in chronic pain conditions [22, 23].

Magnesium is your body’s form of “special K” or ketamine. Both act by blocking NMDA receptors, which is responsible for their anesthetic or “numbing” effects.

You can take a Magnesium Citrate or other forms of Magnesium.

11) Increase Your Butyrate

Resistant starch gets digested in your large intestine, with butyrate as a byproduct.

Butyrate increases mu-opioid receptors, increasing their pain-relieving effects [24].

One study found that resistant starch consistently produces more butyrate than other types of dietary fiber [41].

I use both of these products:

  • Hi-Maize for resistant starch

12) Up Your Intake of Capsaicin (Chili/Cayenne)

Capsaicin, found in cayenne and chili, increases endorphins [25].

Capsaicin has been known to curb pain for over 30 years [42].

13) Probiotics Are Your Friend

Acidophilus is capable of increasing the expression of mu-opioid and cannabinoid receptors in intestinal cells and has morphine-like effects [26].

This is especially important for people with gut pain/IBS. I don’t know if it has this effect in other cells, but it might.

I recommend Acidophilus in order to get enough.

14) Increase Your Melatonin Production

Melatonin exerts its pain-relieving (analgesic) actions by increasing the release of beta-endorphins [27].

Mankind used to get more of this hormone before the advent of modern lights lessened our exposure to darkness.

Light blocks melatonin production. You can wear red glasses 2 hours before bed to help you produce melatonin or you can take melatonin pills (glasses are preferred).

15) Use LLLT (Low-Level Laser Therapy)

Low-level laser therapy has many therapeutic benefits, one of which is pain relief.

Research has found LLLT increases our body’s natural opioids [28].

I’ve used this on my brain and it has a sedating and mood enhancing effect, which feels a bit like opioids.

16) Take Low Dose Naltrexone (LDN)

Okay, this one isn’t natural, but there’s pretty much little to no side effects.

The current theory behind Low Dose Naltrexone’s mechanism of action is that by inhibiting opioid receptors, it causes the body to increase the production of endorphins and enkephalins in order to compensate for the blocked receptors.

The increased levels of opioids persist after the naltrexone has been eliminated from the body.

Thus, regular doses of Low-Dose Naltrexone can be used to increase a patient’s endorphin and enkephalin levels [29].

LDN is being researched for pain use, with positive preliminary results [43].

17) Fall In Love or Spray Some Oxytocin

Oxytocin (not to be confused with oxycodone) is a significant love and pleasure molecule.

Oxytocin is often referred to as the “love hormone” because it facilitates trust and attachment between individuals.

In some studies, high levels of oxytocin have been correlated with romantic attachment [44].

Oxytocin activates the opioid system to a degree, especially the mu– and the kappa-receptors in the “periaqueductal grey matter” which has a key role in the body’s natural pain-killing ability [18].

You can buy Oxytocin spray or Oxytocin sublingual, which is a natural compound our body produces.

The probiotic strain, L Reuteri also increases oxytocin [45].

18) Marijuana

Marijuana is one of the most famous and effective pain-relieving drugs.

The two most active ingredients in marijuana – THC and CBD both activate mu and delta opioid receptors, with pain-relieving effects [30].

19) Check Out Pregnenolone

Pregnenolone is great for mood and motivation.

One of its products, estrogen, increases beta-endorphins [35].

Low blood levels of Pregnenolone are associated with poor pain control.

20) Enjoy Poppy Seeds (in moderation)

Though rare, poppy seed tea consumption can be fatal. It also has the potential to be abused or lead to opiate dependence [32, 33, 34].

Poppy Seeds have morphine and codeine in them [31].

100g of poppy seeds is equivalent to 0.5mg – 20mg of morphine [31]. According to international data, poppy seeds have a maximum of 62 mg/100g morphine and 5.7 mg/100g codeine [46].

The usual morphine dosage for pain is 10 – 15mg.

Be very cautious about consuming poppy seeds in significant quantities if you are taking opioid medication, consuming it in the tea form, or if you have bowel obstruction [32, 47].

Other

Look Into Kratom: A Safer Pain Killer

Kratom is a plant widely used in Thailand. Some estimates say 70% of the males chew on this plant.

Kratom activates the mu-opioid receptors like morphine but is less addictive than traditionally abused opioid drugs. Its effects differ significantly from those of opiates. Kratom does not appear to have significant adverse effects, and in particular, does not seem to cause the abnormally slow breathing typical of other opioids [48].

I took 1g and I felt sedated, but that’s probably because I have a low tolerance. I’d recommend 500mg as a supplement to a healthy lifestyle, BUT ONLY IF YOU NEED IT.

This means, if you’re someone who’s ready to go on pain killers, then this is a better option. I don’t use it for myself.

tDCS

tDCS is meant for serious biohackers. I don’t recommend this unless you have a condition that this can really help such as some serious pain issues.

A 2012 study showed an increase of endogenous μ-opioid release during acute brain stimulation with tDCS, helping to relieve pain [49].

tDCS was tested in patients with a variety of conditions and pain syndromes. So far, the use of tDCS for patients with chronic pain is promising, with clinical observations justifying the use for certain groups of patients [50].

Nicotine

Nicotine increases beta endorphins [51].

Nicotine increased the pain tolerance of men but had no effect on the pain ratings of women [52].

Want Better Ways to Improve Your Mood and Inflammation?

If you’re interested in natural and targeted ways of improving your mood and inflammation, we recommend checking out SelfDecode’s Mood DNA Wellness Report and SelfDecode’s Inflammation DNA Wellness Report. They give genetic-based diet, lifestyle and supplement tips that can help improve your mood and combat inflammation. The recommendations are personalized based on your genes.

SelfDecode is a sister company of SelfHacked. The proceeds from your purchase of this product are reinvested into our research and development, in order to serve you better. Thanks for your support!

About the Author

Joe Cohen, BS

Joe Cohen won the genetic lottery of bad genes. As a kid, he suffered from inflammation, brain fog, fatigue, digestive problems, anxiety, depression, and other issues that were poorly understood in both conventional and alternative medicine.Frustrated by the lack of good information and tools, Joe decided to embark on a journey of self-experimentation and self-learning to improve his health--something that has since become known as “biohacking”. With thousands of experiments and pubmed articles under his belt, Joe founded SelfHacked, the resource that was missing when he needed it. SelfHacked now gets millions of monthly readers.Joe is a thriving entrepreneur, author and speaker. He is the CEO of SelfHacked, SelfDecode and LabTestAnalyzer.His mission is to help people gain access to the most up-to-date, unbiased, and science-based ways to optimize their health.
Joe has been studying health sciences for 17 years and has read over 30,000 PubMed articles. He's given consultations to over 1000 people who have sought his health advice. After completing the pre-med requirements at university, he founded SelfHacked because he wanted to make a big impact in improving global health. He's written hundreds of science posts, multiple books on improving health, and speaks at various health conferences. He's keen on building a brain-trust of top scientists who will improve the level of accuracy of health content on the web. He's also founded SelfDecode and LabTestAnalyzer, popular genetic and lab software tools to improve health.

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