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Natural Highs Intro

Natural Highs Feel Good all the Time

Hyla Cass, MD and Patrick Holford

Introduction

Imagine living in a world where being happy, alert and energetic – in short – feeling ‘high’ and at one with the world – is considered normal. Where getting high is healthy and non-addictive. Sound like science fiction? As we’ll see, it can be as simple as child’s play, where it all begins.

Pass any playground full of 5 or 6 year olds, and you are immediately struck by the bubbling energy that radiates from this running, laughing, shouting sea of kids. They embrace and engage with the world in a way that many of us have forgotten. We seldom find a young child who is the least bit shy about singing, dancing and drawing in front of others. But how many of us would even contemplate doing the same?

Spontaneous and positive, kids are naturally high. They will go out of their way to enhance this, too, by swinging on swings, or spinning in circles till they collapse. Even their crying and angry outbursts are an essential part of this spontaneity. As we approach adolescence, we become ‘socialized’ and lose some of this seemingly innate capacity for fun and pleasure.

When reduced to repetitive and rote behaviors, we surrender and become numb to life. We forget to smell the flowers (sensory awareness), appreciate our beloved (keeping our heart open), and forget the excitement of finding new ways of doing things (mental flexibility).

But are these losses inevitable? Is it possible for us to experience the open, spontaneous, and energetic joy we once had? In the following chapters we discuss how we can once more embrace this more childlike state. Our vital key to sustaining mood, energy and connection is by being aware, present, and open to new ideas, behaviors, and perceptions.

In the following chapters you’ll discover everything you need to experience a natural, childlike high. We include a range of techniques and nutrients designed to promote a sense awareness and mental flexibility, as well as to restore and maintain your energy level. You’ll then be able to find your own perfect combination of diet, nutrients and activities for staying naturally high:

  • Hangover-free alternatives to relaxing with a beer, martini, or a glass of wine.
  • Natural, non-addictive ways to get the same energy kick that you get from coffee, tea or tobacco.
  • Safe, natural and effective alternatives to Prozac® and Valium®, with no side effects.
  • Natural nutrients to help take you to higher states of awareness and connection, without the side effects of drugs.
  • Nourishing foods that can replenish and restore your brain, depleted by stress, or excessive drug and alcohol use.
  • Natural substances that help you escape addictions, some that you may not even realize you have.

You’ll quickly see that getting high can be healthy, non-addictive, and as easy as taking a quick trip to the supermarket, drugstore, or health food store.

Altering Mind, Mood and Energy

At this point you may be questioning whether it is even natural to be high all the time! It certainly isn’t the norm in our culture. And, in fact, evidence suggests that depression and anxiety may offer evolutionary advantages. In the depths of human prehistory, maintaining an edge and keeping a vigilant eye out for enemies could have been of great survival value. Being too blissed-out might make you some predator’s dinner! Despite the absence of this ongoing threat, many of us are still are on-edge, anxious and/or depressed. If this sounds like you, the good news is that mind-altering supplements and techniques can help you to break your patterns, and create new and happier responses to life’s inevitabilities.

Of course, ‘natural’ can mean a lot of things these days. Coffee, alcohol, nicotine, marijuana and even cocaine are all provided by Mother Nature, but they’re not on our recommended list. We mean natural substances that are both legal and good for you. Such substances work with your body’s design, not against it. Used correctly, they can balance and increase health and energy, rather than deplete it.

As we know, feel-good substances already exist, and permeate our culture. Americans drink enormous amounts of coffee, sugared and/or caffeinated soft drinks, and alcohol. We also smoke billions of cigarettes and consume tons of sugar and chocolate. On top of this are the illegal substances, marijuana, Ecstasy and cocaine, and the prescription drugs Valium and Prozac and their relatives.

All that popping, pouring and puffing wouldn’t be so popular unless it worked. In fact, these substances can boost our energy, relieve our anxiety, help us recover from a hard day’s work, and escape our less-than-perfect reality. Unfortunately, these highs evaporate all too quickly, and leave us to cope with a nasty aftermath of mood swings, emotional depletion, physical exhaustion and even addiction. If you’ve quit, that’s probably why. And if you haven’t, it’s probably why you’re reading this book.

Take Me Higher: Spirit and Transcendence

‘High’ has many meanings and connotations, all the way from the just-mentioned chemical variety, to the way we feel when we fall in love, see a magnificent sunset or ride a rollercoaster; the energy, and exuberance most of us had as children; or another dimension entirely — the realm of transcendent or ‘peak’ experiences. We experience a profound sense of unity and harmony, a deep connection with others, and a shared sense of life’s purpose. This is the flash of inspiration, the epiphany that fuels great works of music, art and poetry, as well as scientific and spiritual breakthroughs.

What’s more, this shared human experience of connection with Nature, the Universe, or God, while often difficult to describe in words, can actually be measured by a brain scan. Researchers have isolated a small portion of the emotional center of the brain that is the most active when we are having a spiritual experience. We may actually be hard-wired for this essential connection, with the area being a special receiving or connecting point. Scientists can even induce such as experience by electrically stimulating the area, labeled by Dr. Michael Persinger at Laurentian University as “the God module.”

Some fear that such research, which gives spiritual experience an anatomical location, reduces its deep significance. Others are excited by the concept which seems to prove the reality of this near-universal experience. Whatever your interpretation, though, it implies that if you have a functioning brain, you are very likely able to experience a spiritual high.

Traditional cultures the world over have used psychoactive drugs to attain these peak states. We substitute various herbal combinations that you can use to alter your mind-state. They also used specific methods, such as meditation, movement, drumming, visualization, or special breathing techniques that you will find in Part Three.

How We Work: The Mind-body Connection

These techniques depend upon the mind-body connection, with brain chemistry as the link. One of the most exciting new areas of medical science, the study of the ‘mind-body’ interface, is helping us to understand for the first time just how this works, and what you and I can do to improve our minds and moods.

The topic has fascinated both of us for over twenty years. As a psychiatrist and as a nutritionist specializing in mental health problems, we have worked with hundreds of clients with serious emotional problems. By helping them modify their brain chemistry, we have witnessed remarkable recoveries to robust mental health. We’ve found that certain natural substances can pull you out of depression, restore balance in times of stress, or promote an exhilarating sense of well being.

We have also come across many people, especially those approaching middle age (it happens to the best of us!), who have an additional problem. They are less able to tolerate the use of alcohol, marijuana or other mind-altering substances that they once used freely. Others complain that the effect is diminished, that it ‘just isn’t what it used to be’. To their dismay, many have also noticed that their long-term substance use, even if it was only intermittent, has affected their mental abilities.

Noel, a 45-year-old stock-broker and long-time pot-smoker, complained that ‘Not only doesn’t it work as well as it once did, but I feel so tired and foggy the next day, that the temporary high is just not worth it. My memory isn’t as good as it used to be, either.’

Fortunately, with the regular use of some prescribed supplements, Noel regained his mental faculties and energy. In fact, he claimed that ‘I haven’t felt this clear and energetic since I was in my twenties!’ In the process he also lost his desire for smoking pot.

When you substitute ‘pot’ for alcohol, cigarettes, coffee or any other mind- and mood-altering substance, then you have an idea of the scope of the problem, and the effectiveness of our solution.

This sounds miraculous, and it is. As researchers unravel how natural mind-altering substances change our perceptions and moods, they’ve discovered an amazing thing: almost all these substances are similar to our own brain chemicals, and seem to work by mimicking, boosting or blocking their effects.

What this means, of course, is that we are all theoretically capable of producing our own natural highs, without even taking the substance. How? The answer lies deep in our brain, with those chemical messengers of mind and emotion, the neurotransmitters (discussed in detail in Chapter 2).

Since neurotransmitters are literally made from nutrients – amino acids, vitamins and minerals, we can formulate the perfect ‘brain food’ to improve how we feel and think. Nutritional supplements can create a state of high energy, increased focus and good mood. With the right combinations, well-being, connection and joie de vivre can become your normal state of mind.

Feeding your brain is vital. Just as important is remembering that chemistry works both ways: various substances can promote a natural high, and positive states of mind can raise your ‘happy’ brain chemicals. Our mind-power is a remarkable, often untapped resource in our search for happiness.

How to Use This Book

Part One consists of three chapters, starting with the Natural High Questionnaire. The questionnaire will help you assess your own current needs, habits and patterns, and to develop your own strategy for shifting to natural highs.

We then introduce you to the basics of brain function. You will learn about neurotransmitters, the brain’s ‘communication chemicals’ that are capable of stimulating and relaxing you, lifting your mood and sharpening your mind. You will find out why some substances knock your chemistry out of balance, while others are good for you. We then give you the Natural High Basics, a core regimen of food and supplements that create the best internal environment for sustaining mood and energy. You will learn how to support your brain and body chemistry for maximum energy and balance.

Part Two is the heart of the book – five chapters that deal with the issues and substances that probably attracted you to this book in the first place: ‘Beating Stress And Tension’, ‘Energy Boosters’, ‘Mood Boosters, ‘Mind And Memory Boosters’ And ‘Connectors’.

Each chapter presents its information in the following sequence:

  • How you would prefer to feel, and how you might be feeling now.
  • What goes on in your body and brain chemistry when you feel this way.
  • The upsides and downsides of conventional substances that we use, such as alcohol and tranquilizers.
  • The natural alternatives that can produce the desired result without the downsides. We’ll learn why they work, the research on their benefits, and how to use them.
  • Finally, there’s a straightforward action plan – clear and simple steps to achieve a natural high.

Part Three suggests other ways to achieve your natural high. You will see how breathing, meditation, exercise and sleep can raise mood and energy. We also look at positive thinking, sex, and the life-enhancing uses of light, color, music and aromatherapy.

Part Four offers top tips on natural ways to chill out, boost your energy, lift your mood, enhance your mind and get connected. There is also an A-Z listing of the substances you can take to achieve a natural high.

Note: In each part of the book we have numbered statements that link to research papers in the back of the book. These are there for those who wish to study this subject in depth. We also refer to books and websites throughout the book, with details in Recommended Reading and Resources at the back.

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