5 Alternative Highs That Won't Kill You

The eyes of the law get red and bleary. van Wunnik

If you need a little self-induced neurochemical pick-me-up, but find it inconvenient or unnerving to procure illegal substances, there are a bunch of easier options. We’ll gloss over the usual legal intoxicants — alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and, depending on where you are, cannabis. Be more creative than that.

You may have to go through a bit of a song-and-dance to pull some of these more unusual highs off, but your toes will remain safely on the right side of the law.

1. Running

If you run long enough, but not so much the fatigue hallucinations set in, you experience what that one cross country kid in your high school so breathlessly described as a runner’s high, a wave of europhoria that crests over you then drips away. For a long time, it was thought that the brain was responding to endorphins, that giddy-yet-overplayed Taylor Swift of neuropeptide opiate analogues. But there’s evidence that what’s going on is more Snoopish than Swiftian. Because endorphins can’t schlep through the blood-brain barrier, the sketches scientists are working with now are of smaller culprits, molecules known as endocannabinoids. There’s no concrete proof that endocannabinoids are what gives runners their buzz, but there is a fair bit of evidence, such as mice lacking cannabinoid receptors that don’t seem to use their exercise wheels as frequently.

2. Peyote

Technically speaking, it is legal to ingest the psychotropic peyote cactus during a Native American Church religious ceremony. This exemption applies, as upheld by a 2004 Utah Supreme Court decision, regardless of Native American heritage as long as you are a member of the Church. Non-technically speaking, it would be crappy for you — as a human — to co-opt someone else’s religion just to trip. But it’s possible to arrange for a an experience and be respectful about the whole thing. Give the people at the Peyote Church of God a ring. They know the score.

3. Fugu Fish

The Japanese delicacy fugu, or raw puffer fish, is packed to the gills with bacteria that produce a dangerous tetrodotoxin. (Traditionally speaking — there are now puffer fish farms that raise a bacteria- and toxin-free fish.) It’s illegal to prepare the fish in the United States, but about a dozen sushi chefs in the U.S. are licensed to serve imported fugu. The bacterial poison is lethal if the fish is improperly served, but low doses of the neurotoxin give eaters a high — a light-headed floaty sensation akin to the calm you feel just before you drown.

4. Areca Nut

The areca nut is more psychologically addictive than stimulating, and it also causes red-stained teeth, and, likely, oral cancer. Despite that, areca fruit wrapped in tobacco and betel leaves is a popular chewed drug in the Eastern Hemisphere — putting it at the fourth most-widely used psychoactive substance after booze, tobacco, and caffiene.

5. Kava

Kava, a drink from a ground-up root found in the Pacific that is probably not good for your liver, is a mild sedative with active molecules called kavalactones. The kavalactones are thought to reduce anxiety and act as a soporific. A brown powder served in water, it looks, smells, and tastes like mud.

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