6 HEALTHY HIGHS …..

When you want to feel good, drugs and alcohol are a tempting solution — quick relief with relatively little effort. But the thing about the big highs is that they are inevitably followed by the big lows, not to mention long-term health problems, potential legal consequences and the ever-present threat of addiction.

Fortunately, there are several healthy ways to feel “high” without relying on drugs or alcohol — and they come side effect-free courtesy of Mother Nature:

#1 Exercise
Most people have heard of the “runner’s high,” but you don’t have to be a runner to get this natural mood boost. Any heart-pounding physical activity — for example, 50 minutes running on a treadmill — can release endorphins, endocannabinoids, serotonin, dopamine and other brain chemicals that are nature’s versions of drugs like marijuana or heroin. Evidence suggests these chemicals are behind the runner’s high, helping to reduce pain and provide a sense of well-being.

Aerobic activity also produces brain chemicals that reduce anxiety and depression as much, if not more than, medication in some cases. No marathon training needed — all it takes is 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, three days a week. You may also sleep better, lose weight, have more energy and feel better about yourself in the process.

#2 Sex
Endorphins, dopamine and other feel-good brain chemicals are produced after sex, too. Do the deed regularly and you may even notice improvements in your immune system. Of course, sex can become a problem if it’s used as a substitute for drugs or alcohol, or if it becomes part of a compulsive behavior pattern, but when engaged in responsibly, sex can be a healthy, all-natural high.

#3 Touch and Be Touched
It’s not just sex that gets the feel-good brain chemicals pumping. Any type of human touch, whether a hug, a reassuring squeeze of the hand or a snuggle from a pet, can be physically and emotionally healing. A simple embrace sparks a flood of oxytocin — nature’s “love drug” — that makes people feel more secure and attached. At the same time, stress hormones such as cortisol recede, helping people feel less stressed and anxious.

Healing touch can also be in the form of massage, which transmits electrical signals throughout the body to stimulate circulation, boost immunity and reduce pain and tension. Like other natural highs, massage also appears to stimulate the release of endorphins. These effects make massage an effective part of treatment for many conditions, including chronic pain, high blood pressure, depression, addiction and eating disorders.

Similar mechanisms — namely endogenous opioids and endorphins — are at work to relieve pain and boost mood when someone receives acupuncture. The fine needles used in this form of traditional Chinese medicine trigger calcium flow, which interacts with white blood cells to produce natural painkillers.

#4 Talk to a Friend
Ever feel that warm and contented sensation after venting to a friend? Scientific evidence shows that gossiping is a form of social bonding that releases stress-relieving endorphins. Better yet, get together with friends for a few laughs or listen to your favorite music and get double the rush.

As social creatures, humans rely on these connections for our physical, mental and social well-being. So even if you’re not the touchy-feely type, good conversation may be all you need to re-energize.

#5 Service
What really makes people happy? As part of the “positive psychology” movement, scientists have set out to answer this question. The result? Materialism is out. Service is in.

Put simply, researchers have learned that doing good feels good. Long after the thrill of a new purchase wears off, doing something nice for others — or investing in an experience shared with others — yields lasting memories and a sense of truly being alive. Happiness that comes from having meaning and purpose (as opposed to self-gratification) not only feels good, but also affects the expression of our genes.

#6 Mindfulness
Are there activities you’ve done that cause you to stop worrying, forget the world and lose all sense of time? Described by some as “flow,” this state of being produces a long-lasting sense of euphoria. Doing more of these activities, whether it’s drawing, solving a puzzle, playing a sport, cooking or playing an instrument, is one of the keys to enduring satisfaction.

Never experienced the sensation of “flow?” Start with deep, conscious breathing. This type of mindfulness practice can slow down a racing mind, making room for a sense of peace and calm.

When stress mounts, the urge to self-soothe can lead us in some counter-productive directions — drugs, alcohol or overeating, for example. As it turns out, some of the most powerful mood-enhancing chemicals are not swallowed, smoked, snorted or injected. They’ve been within us all along.

South Florida Pill MILL doc goes to trial

According to records filed in federal court in Fort Lauderdale on Thursday, Piazza worked at Margate Pain Management from Oct. 20, 2009, until Aug. 2, 2010, charging patients between $250 and $350 on their first visits and between $150 and $250 for return visits. The payments, according to the charges, had to be made in cash – the clinic did not accept checks or insurance.

Prosecutors say Piazza personally earned $253,800 in the nine and a half months he worked at the clinic. In that same period, he allegedly prescribed 152,774 pills.

The charges describe Piazza as a co-owner of the operation, though the business was still running and changed its name to Total Medical Express some time after he stopped working there. Total Medical Express was raided and shut down in June 2011, resulting in six arrests, including two doctors.

In addition to the possible prison time, Piazza would be subject to three years of probation, a $250,000 fine and forfeiture of all the money he made if he’s convicted.

Todd Weicholz, the Boca Raton attorney representing Piazza, said he would not comment on the allegations because he has not had enough time to review the charges, which were filed Thursday.

Piazza is due in federal court in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday.

Federal crackdowns on pill mill operations in South Florida have met with significant results, with some setbacks. Earlier this month, Deerfield Beach doctor Charles Neuringer, 73, was sentenced to 21 months in prison for authorizing thousands of unneeded prescriptions out of Coast to Coast Healthcare Management Clinic.

Guilty pleas were entered by 28 of 30 defendants charged in connection with South Florida pill mills owned by Christopher George: American Pain in Fort Lauderdale and Executive Pain in Lake Worth.

Two of the doctors took their case to trial. Cynthia Cadet and Joseph Castronuovo were acquitted by a federal jury in West Palm Beach of charges accusing them of overprescribing oxycodone and other drugs, but convicted of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Vermont is the state with the highest drug use problem

Vermont has the highest rate of illicit drug use in the country with 15% of people saying they’ve used within the past month (compared to 4.2% in Utah, where drug use is the lowest), according to 2010-2011 surveys from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The state ranked high for almost every type of drug, from marijuana to cocaine.

Experts attribute the problem to a combination of factors, including weather, politics, and proximity to big cities. “You have everything from the colder climate, which tends to be a reason some people give, to more liberal attitudes, to higher income levels, to people having more access, but I don’t think anyone knows for sure,” Barbara Cimaglio, the Vermont Department of Health’s deputy commissioner for alcohol and drug abuse programs, told Business Insider.

Cimaglio pointed out that marijuana accounts for a large portion of the state’s drug use. Vermont ranked highest in the U.S. for marijuana use, with about 13% of people saying they’ve used it in the past month. “I think what drives this up tends to be the higher use of marijuana, and if you look at the states [with high illicit drug use], they tend to be the states that have decriminalized or have more favorable attitudes toward use of marijuana,” she said.

Trafficking from out-of-state drug dealers has also worsened Vermont’s drug problem, likely because the state has highways that feed into big cities. “I think Vermont is really in sort of a perfect storm because we’re on that highway between Montreal, Boston, New York, and also going to Philadelphia,” Cimaglio said. “You have to go through Vermont to get to some of the bigger cities like Boston, so it seems like some people are just trafficking along the way and Vermont is one of the stops.”

Within the last year or so, she said, she’s heard more stories of burglaries related to drug trafficking and more stories about people being arrested in Vermont who aren’t from the state. Seven Days, an independent newspaper in Vermont, reported earlier this year that large amounts of heroin have been coming into the state from big-city dealers who can sell the drug at a higher price in Vermont. The drug is coming from New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Detroit.

A bag of heroin that would cost $5 in a big city can sell for as much as $30 in Rutland, Vt., the city’s police chief James Baker told the newspaper. Vermont is seeing an uptick in heroin use, Cimaglio confirmed. Prescription drug use has also risen dramatically in Vermont, as it has around the country, the Burlington Free Press reported in 2011.

Vermont officials have taken notice of the drug use trends and are trying to curb the problem. “We’ve enhanced our treatment services greatly, and also law enforcement,” Cimaglio said. “We’re addressing it on all fronts.”