This is drugs. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?” Many of us grew up with those familiar words engrained into our childhood, and they were then followed by a slew of other anti-drug TV spots, namely the “My Anti-Drug” and “Above the Influence” campaigns. Yet, despite the warnings, nearly 10 percent of Americans go on to use various illicit drugs, from crack cocaine to marijuana, and millions more drink alcohol, which is often worse than the others, all with the intention of getting high or drunk.

There’s (somewhat) good news, though. You don’t have to take drugs, many of which have the potential for addiction and abuse, to get high. There are plenty of natural ways to get high without any drugs whatsoever. And while that’s not a go-ahead from us to go out and get high— chances are if you’re looking to get high, you’ve already sought out drugs — these four natural highs all have similar effects to illicit drugs.

Listening To Music

It can happen at a concert, in your home, or on the train while commuting to work. The sound of musical instruments coming together in a crescendo, a woman’s voice carrying a tune as if she’s singing to you, or a drop so hard and unexpected it makes your body twitch in anticipation of dancing. Music is powerful — so powerful, in fact, that it has the ability to lift you up when you’re sad.

On that basis, if it can lift you up when you’re sad, imagine what it can do when you’re not sad; when you’re already in a good mood, and you hear that one song, or part of it, that brings you up to cloud level. A 2010 study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience found, with the help of brain scans, that listening to music you like increases dopamine levels in your brain. So much so that it can induce chills, which, in this case, are known as musical frisson.

“Music, an abstract stimulus, can arouse feelings of euphoria and craving, similar to tangible rewards that involve the striatal dopaminergic system,” the study’s abstract said. Almost every drug, including cocaine, nicotine, and amphetamine, activates this same system, which plays a role in pleasure and reward. You can hear a couple of the songs study participants found pleasurable below.


There’s something addictive about hearing your enemy messed up a huge job opportunity, or that a married couple you know just divorced over a wild scandal. It’s no wonder celebrities are followed by paparazzi and there are countless websites, magazines, and TV shows dedicated to spreading their rumors and day-to-day activities. People love gossiping because it can induce a natural high, seriously.

Comparing gossip to “social grooming” among primates, “which has been shown to stimulate production of endorphins, relieving stress, and boosting the immune system,” a 2001 study on the role of text messages in human communication, from the UK’s Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC), found many people viewed gossip as a form of social glue. “What you get out of it (mobile gossip) is a sense of being included, being trusted — a sense of belonging to a group,” one focus-group participant said.

But how does this equate to a natural high? Not only does this social connection release endorphins, but taking risks also increases dopamine levels. “It was clear from our focus-group discussions that enjoyment of gossip had much to do with the element of risk involved,” the researchers wrote. It makes sense; gossip delves into people’s private lives, and none of us should be talking about that. Getting away with it is what induces that high.

Being In Love

Sometimes, after a long, terrible day at work, a text or call from your significant other is all you need to cheer up. Their sweet words send your heart fluttering, your chest halts for a second as your breathing stops. Your lips curl into a smile. Love is powerful, and the high it induces makes us do dumb, foolish things, just like drugs. But that’s not always a bad thing, either.

A 2010 meta-analysis of brain scan data looking into the brain networks associated with passionate love found such feelings increased levels of both dopamine and oxytocin, the love hormone, in the brain. But the study didn’t only look at love between couples, but also involved love between a mother and her child, and unconditional love for people with intellectual disabilities. Researchers found these types of love also activated increases in vasopressin, adrenaline, serotonin, endorphins, and phenylethylamine — a stimulant precursor to dopamine.

In other words, all these chemicals are released simultaneously to create that love drunk, emotional, messy feeling. But hey, there really might be nothing better than love, no matter who it’s from and in which form it comes.

Spicy Food

If you haven’t jumped on the Sriracha bandwagon yet, maybe you’ll want to after reading this. Spicy food, that oh-so-tingling, burning, get-it-out-of-my-mouth food, actually induces a natural high minutes after eating it. And hey, the spicier the better.

Chili peppers in particular contain high levels of the substance capsaicin, which causes the burning sensation in spicy food. The chemical has been proven before to work as a topical painkiller for arthritis, and also forces the brain to release endorphins. “The endorphins work to block the heat,” Paul Bosland, cofounder and director of New Mexico State University’s Chile Pepper Institute, told ABC News in 2012. “The body produces them in response to the heat, which it senses as pain.” The result: a strong head buzz and numbness.

Some research even suggests capsaicin in higher levels can have mildly hallucinogenic effects. According to History, Mayans used them over 9,000 years ago as stimulants, while today’s chili eaters have reported seeing objects that weren’t even in the room and losing feelings in body parts.

So there you have it. These four natural highs will get your brain buzzed without the effects of hard drugs. That’s not to say there won’t be negative effects, however. Three out of these four are likely to get you into trouble at one point, whether it’s because the spice was too hot to handle, you’re going through relationship troubles, or your friend just found out you were talking about them.