Euphoria is an affective state in which a person experiences pleasure or excitement and intense feelings of well-being and happiness. Certain drugs, many of which are addictive, can cause euphoria, which at least partially motivates their recreational use. Similarly, certain natural rewards and social activities, such as aerobic exercise, laughter, listening to emotionally arousing music, music-making, and dancing, can induce a state of euphoria. Euphoria is also a symptom of certain neurological or neuropsychiatric disorders, such as mania. Romantic love and components of the human sexual response cycle are also associated with the induction of euphoria.
According to Kent Berridge, an affective neuroscientist, intense euphoria occurs from the simultaneous activation of every hedonic hotspot within the brain’s reward system
Many different types of stimuli can induce euphoria, including psychoactive drugs, natural rewards, and social activities. Affective disorders such as unipolar mania or bipolar disorder can involve euphoria as a symptom.
Continuous physical exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, can induce a state of euphoria; for example, distance running is often associated with a “runner’s high”, which is a pronounced state of exercise-induced euphoria.Exercise is known to affect dopamine signaling in the nucleus accumbens, producing euphoria as a result, through increased biosynthesis of three particular neurochemicals: anandamide (an endocannabinoid), β-endorphin (an endogenous opioid), and phenethylamine (a trace amine and amphetamine analog).
Euphoria can occur as a result of dancing to music, music-making, and listening to emotionally arousing music. Neuroimaging studies have demonstrated that the reward system plays a central role in mediating music-induced pleasure. Pleasurable emotionally arousing music strongly increases dopamine neurotransmission in the dopaminergic pathways that project to the striatum (i.e., the mesolimbic pathway and nigrostriatal pathway). Approximately 5% of the population experiences a phenomenon termed “musical anhedonia”, in which individuals do not experience pleasure from listening to emotionally arousing music despite having the ability to perceive the intended emotion that is conveyed in passages of music.
A euphoriant is a type of psychoactive drug which tends to induce euphoria. Most euphoriants are addictive drugs due to their reinforcing properties and ability to activate the brain’s reward system.
Dopaminergic stimulants like amphetamine, methamphetamine, cocaine, MDMA, and methylphenidate are euphoriants. Nicotine is a parasympathetic stimulant that acts as a mild euphoriant in some people.
Some textbooks state that caffeine is a mild euphoriant, others state that it is not a euphoriant, and one states that it is and is not a euphoriant.
Chewing areca nut (seeds from the Areca catechu palm) with slaked lime (calcium hydroxide) – a common practice in South- and Southeast Asia – produces stimulant effects and euphoria. The major psychoactive ingredients – arecoline (a muscarinic receptor partial agonist) and arecaidine (a GABA reuptake inhibitor) – are responsible for the euphoric effect.
Certain depressants can produce euphoria; some of the euphoriant drugs in this class include drinking alcohol (i.e., ethanol) in moderate doses, γ-hydroxybutyric acid, and ketamine.
Some barbiturates and benzodiazepines may cause euphoria. Euphoriant effects are determined by the drug’s speed of onset, increasing dose, and with intravenous administration. Barbiturates more likely to cause euphoria include amobarbital, secobarbital and pentobarbital. Benzodiazepines more likely to cause euphoria are flunitrazepam, alprazolam and clonazepam. Benzodiazepines also tend to enhance opioid-induced euphoria.
Pregabalin induces dose-dependent euphoria. Occurring in a small percentage of individuals at recommended doses, euphoria is increasingly frequent at supratherapeutic doses (or with intravenous- or nasal administration). At doses five times the maximum recommended, intense euphoria is reported.
µ-Opioid receptor agonists are a set of euphoriants that include drugs such as heroin, morphine, codeine, oxycodone, and fentanyl. By contrast, κ-opioid receptor agonists, like the endogenous neuropeptide dynorphin, are known to cause dysphoria, a mood state opposite to euphoria that involves feelings of profound discontent.
Cannabinoid receptor 1 agonists are a group of euphoriants that includes certain plant-based cannabinoids (e.g., THC from the cannabis plant), endogenous cannabinoids (e.g., anandamide), and synthetic cannabinoids.
Certain gases, like nitrous oxide (N2O, aka “laughing gas”), can induce euphoria when inhaled
Acute exogenous glucocorticoid administration is known to produce euphoria, but this effect is not observed with long-term exposure
Asphyxiation initially produces an extreme feeling of euphoria leading some people to intentionally induce temporary asphyxiation. Erotic asphyxiation typically employs strangulation to produce euphoria which enhances masturbation and orgasm. The choking game, prevalent in adolescents, uses brief hypoxia in the brain to achieve euphoria. Strangulation, or hyperventilation followed by breath holding are commonly used to achieve the effects. Accidental deaths occur from both practices but are often mislabeled as suicide.
Euphoria is also strongly associated with both hypomania and mania, mental states characterized by a pathological heightening of mood, which may be either euphoric or irritable, in addition to other symptoms, such as pressured speech, flight of ideas, and grandiosity.
Although hypomania and mania are syndromes with multiple etiologies (that is, ones that may arise from any number of conditions), they are most commonly seen in bipolar disorder, a psychiatric illness characterized by alternating periods of mania and depression.
Euphoria may occur during auras of seizures typically originating in the temporal lobe, but effecting the anterior insular cortex. This euphoria is symptomatic of a rare syndrome called ecstatic seizures, often also involving mystical experiences. Euphoria (or more commonly dysphoria) may also occur in periods between epileptic seizures. This condition, interictal dysphoric disorder, is considered an atypical affective disorder. Persons who experience feelings of depression or anxiety between or before seizures occasionally experience euphoria afterwards
Some persons experience euphoria in the prodrome – hours to days before the onset – of a migraine headache Similarly, a euphoric state occurs in some persons following the migraine episode.
Euphoria sometimes occurs in persons with multiple sclerosis as the illness progresses. This euphoria is part of a syndrome originally called euphoria sclerotica, which typically includes disinhibition and other symptoms of cognitive and behavioral dysfunction.