Natural Highs Feel Good all the Time
Hyla Cass, MD and Patrick Holford Q. What is a “natural high”?
A. A “natural high” is a state of feeling well and happy that is based on having well- balanced body and brain chemistry. This also refers to certain activities as well as healthy nutrients that nourish the body and brain, creating a sustained and healthy high. We recommend supplements that work with the body’s design, not against it, with minimal to no side effects, even in large doses. The commonly used ‘feel-good’ substances, from caffeine to alcohol, or cocaine, are simply unhealthy, creating an artificial and brief high, followed by a rebound low in mood and energy. Further use has diminishing returns, as our brain re-adjusts itself in a process called “downregulation.” Then we need more to get the same effect, and eventually, get little effect at all. Q. One may argue that some common substances, such as tea, tobacco, or coffee, are natural because they are derived from natural sources. However, we develop addiction towards them. What is the nature of addiction? How can we free ourselves from “the prison of addiction”?
A. While a plant like Kava, which is the relaxing and connecting drink of the Pacific Islands (and probably why the islanders are so laid back) fits the bill, coffee doesn’t. The reason for this is that caffeine, like so many drugs, mimics or increases the body’s release or sensitivity to adrenalin, which gives you a kick. But this is followed by the body ‘fighting back’ by desensitizing to the adrenalin rush. The net result is you become more tired and stressed over time, and need more and more caffeine to keep going. But the more you take it, the less effectively it works. This need for ever-increasing amounts to achieve the same effect, and feeling let down when is wears off, are signs of addiction, created by the downregulation that we mentioned earlier.
So, rather than create an artificial need, why not take something that actually fulfills the original desire to feel better-calm, energized, happy, and connected! You can also use natural high compounds to help you break an addiction. As your brain is brought into balance, you no longer crave that drink, candy bar, or cocaine. Q. Why do we need highs – natural or unnatural? Can’t we do it without drugs?
A. There appear to be three main reasons we take drugs. The first is to avoid pain, which is where the numbing drugs, from alcohol to heroin fit in. You get completely drunk on Friday night and forget all your worries, and there’s no ‘natural’ alternative for that.
Then there is the desire to rebalance – to energize when you’re feeling tired, to relax and unwind when you’re feeling stressed, to improve your mood when you’re feeling down, to sharpen your mind when you’re feeling fuzzy, and perhaps most importantly, to get connected.
This last need – to get connected – is, I think, the most important. To a certain extent, any shared altered state promotes connection at some level. But beyond that, there’s a definite desire for specific substances that give you a feeling of unity, connection, and the sense of where you fit into the big picture. That’s why Ecstasy (MDMA) is so popular. The conservative estimates now say that over a million tablets are taken every week and that one quarter of all 16 to 25 year olds have tried it. Q. Can you elaborate on any of the mind-body techniques that create a natural high?
A. We are not looking only at nutrients and herbs. We introduce you to other key aspects of the natural high equation that help you to balance your own neurotransmitters and stay high naturally. We look at techniques and lifestyle changes that can help you stay relaxed, alert, productive and happy. We can rebalance and get reconnected through music, movement, sex, light, color, aromatherapy or meditation. Of course, we do this already – by going to the movies, dancing the night away, listening to a certain CD, taking a vacation at the beach, doing yoga, or having sex. All of these are ‘natural’ highs and very much a part of our vision of the future.
Let’s not forget that the real change is in our brain, where we actually manufacture our own neurotransmitters. That is, while caffeine can stimulate us, it does so only by affecting the brain’s production of the chemicals, dopamine and adrenalin. Similarly, we can say that Valium or kava relax us, but the effect is actually produced by our very own GABA. We also produce endorphins — morphine-like neuropeptides that relieve pain, enhance immunity and make us feel euphoric. You’ve heard of the runner’s high? It is the result of the release of feel-good endorphins in the brain. We are actually in charge of, and can influence, our own state of being! Q. How can a person determine which natural highs best suit his/her individual profile (age, gender, weight/height, ethnicity, etc.) and individual needs (mood enhancement, memory improvement, etc.)?
A. We have a series of questionnaires at the start of the book that helps you to determine your own needs in terms of natural highs. By looking at your score, you can tell which area you need to focus on most, and what products and activities are likeliest to be your natural highs. Q. How safe and effective are natural highs while taking prescription or over-the-counter drugs?
A. Supplements can be powerful – or why bother taking them at all? So, you should familiarize yourself with the possible interactions that they may have with drugs and other herbs or supplements, all described in the book. For example, while St John’s wort is an excellent mood enhancer, it should not be taken with certain drugs because it makes them less potent (just as grapefruit juice does with many drugs). Some of these are: coumadin, a blood thinner, immunosuppressant drugs taken by transplant patients, protease inhibitors for HIV, and possibly even oral contraceptives. On the other hand, herbs are remarkably safe: while prescription medications were responsible for 100,000 deaths in one year, it is only since 1993, with deaths due to misuse of ephedra, that there was a single fatality reported from medicinal herbs. We need to maintain perspective here. Q. How does your book differ from other natural health and healing books that promote the use of herbs, supplements and non-pharmacological therapies?
A. Life in the 21st century is stressful. The rate of change, and the daily pressures are immense and not getting easier. We have to learn new tools to stay in balance and to promote well-being. The critical point is whether the way we try to rebalance expends or increases our energy. Caffeine, the most popular stimulants, as does alcohol, the most popular relaxant. It’s Friday night. You come home tired and stressed, pour yourself a big glass of wine or two, chill out, unwind and dissipate energy. Next day you wake up tired and hungover. Now, here’s an alternative scenario.
You come home, put on your ‘chill music’ CD, have a bath with some relaxing aromatherapy oils in it, take some chill supplements (taurine, GABA, Kava, hops, and/or passion flower), put on the blue light, light a few candles and use a very simple relaxing visualization technique, perhaps while you’re in the bath, that lets you unwind, complete the week, and move on. Within 15 minutes you are feeling human again, balanced, relaxed and at peace. No loss of energy, no hangover. Doesn’t that sound better? Q. Why did you write this book? Do you think we are in a crisis of dependency in this country?
A. The book’s purpose is to help people become masters of their own state, to reach the fullest expression of health, happiness and fulfillment that is available to us as human beings. We now have unparalleled access to ancient herbs, to mystical traditions and practices, and to breakthroughs in modern science and medicine. These are helping us to understand and influence both the human process and the chemistry of consciousness. We envision a future where we are much more in control of our lives. Instead of feeling powerless in the face of modern-day challenges, we feel empowered to be all we can be!