All grains contain peptides that mimic morphine or endogenous opioid substances. This is where I deal with my latest loaf craving. Get your bread-based exorphin fix here.

Monday, February 8, 2010


I am a palliative care nurse. A big part of my job is to offer patients narcotics to alleviate their pain. While at home, one of my hobbies is baking bread. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I recently learned that all grains contain elements that mimic the action of morphine in the body.

morphine moleculeAlthough I primarily work with hydromorphone (Dilaudid), morphine remains the prototype opioid analgesia. Morphine was first derived from the poppy plant and it was found to be useful because it binds to opioid receptors in the human body to block the ordinary pain response. Any substance that so directly affects the human central nervous system will have side effects, and indeed, morphine has many -- including euphoria.

The human body manufactures its own endogenous opiates, or endorphins. And the poppy is not the only plant that creates substances that will bind to the human opioid receptors. For example, wheat contains peptides which mimic the action of opiates in the human body.

In 1995, Greg Wadley and Angus Martin published a paper in Australian Biologist hypothesizing that humans invented agriculture in order to feel the euphoria that grain provides. In other words we cultivate plants, specifically grains, in order to experience the narcotizing effects of the grain's exorphins.

Last night, following my third 12-hour shift, dealing with hospital patients that overflowed our ward, I made my way home, exhausted but sleepless. Three shifts in a row is almost equivalent to an ordinary workweek for most people. So there was a reason why I was physically and emotionally exhausted.

But I wasn't sleeping because I was waiting for my firm starter to rise before refrigerating it, prior to the next day's baking. And that's when I realized it was true. I am addicted.

I am an exorphin junkie.


  1. May i suggest you further read:
    Hillman G R Hedges A Moore S Colledge & P Pettitt (2001) New evidence of Lateglacial cereal cultivation at Abu Hureyra on the Euphrates Holocene 11 (4) 383-393.
    Let me know if you need a copy of it sent to you.
    Thanks for the amusement.

  2. Very interesting man! I got rid of ADD and got off ritalin when cutting exorphins out of my diet. Did you know that they are also in casein, soy and spinach? :)

    the Netherlands

    1. I knew it was in milk, didn't know casein was the source protein. Didn't know about soy and spinach, I'd like to see the evidence for it. But really, when you think about it, why is it such a surprise? If one plant (poppies) can find an evolutionary use for a narcotic substance in its internals, then other plants (and animals!) can too. But I also think that we have to be careful when saying that these products are narcotic in themselves. The milk and wheat exorphins actually require a reaction from the human gut before they become opiate-like. Could it be that humans and the foods we eat evolved in a complex symbiotic relationship? We were literally made to like them.

      But if you can eliminate them from your diet and see improvement in attention, enough to stop taking a drug usually used to correct attention deficit, go for it.