Anandamide: why does this natural cannabinoid make us so happy?

Anandamide: why does this natural cannabinoid make us so happy?

Di: Contributor Terapeutico

There are many secrets surrounding the functioning of the human body that we might have never understood if it weren’t for the cannabis plant. One of them is anandamide, one of the pieces of the puzzle collected over the last few decades which demonstrates that marijuana is a therapeutic miracle capable of bringing happiness into our lives.

Anandamide is a natural cannabinoid produced by the human body that gets its name from the Sanskrit word ‘ananda’, which means joy, bliss, and delight (hence why it is also known as ‘the bliss molecule’). This almost unknown compound, which is present in all humans, plays an important role in the regulation of our emotional state. In addition, it also plays a part in our eating patterns and in pain relief, although its main function is to help make us happy and healthy.

We say that anandamide is ‘almost unknown’ because scientists had no idea it existed until they started learning about how THC (i.e. tetrahydrocannabinol) acts in the brain. Anandamide was initially discovered in Israel in 1992 in the laboratory of Raphael Mechoulam, the godfather of cannabis research, who theorised that if our brain has receptors that can be affected by THC, then our body must also produce similar chemicals.

It was during the time that these studies were being conducted that researchers discovered an unusual neurotransmitter that seemed to perfectly fit with the THC receptors. This compound was originally called ‘arachidonoylethanolamide’, but, for obvious reasons, was later given the shorter name of ‘anandamide’. Ultimately, this fundamental discovery became the basis of a great part of what we know today about the endocannabinoid system.

The connection between anandamide and cannabis

Anandamide is one of the first endocannabinoids ever discovered by scientists (‘endo’ = inside). But what makes this compound especially unique is that it interacts with the same receptors as the THC in cannabis. This is why some people experience gratifying feelings and euphoria when they consume THC.

Although THC and anandamide bind to the same receptors, anandamide (like all neurotransmitters) is a much more fragile molecule. Once produced, it is rapidly broken down into other compounds by an enzyme called FAAH (fatty acid amide hydrolase). The slower FAAH works, the longer anandamide stays in the body and therefore the longer it produces the feeling of happiness that it is renowned for. This chemical pathway is of great interest to scientists, who believe it can lead to the development of treatments for disorders involving the nervous system (for instance anxiety).

Anandamide and homeostasis

Anandamide is an essential part of the human endocannabinoid system whose function is to balance our body and mind. In almost every facet of the emotional roller coaster that we experience on a daily basis, this compound does everything in its power to give us a sense of security and happiness. It’s been proven that people with high anandamide levels are more daring, whereas those with lower levels are more prone to suffer from mental disorders, ranging from depression to schizophrenia.

So it makes sense to think that we, as people who walk through this vale of tears, need to do everything we can to increase the levels of anandamide in our bodies. And there are several ways to do so.

Exercise as a source of happiness

After a long and intense aerobic exercise session, some people experience what is known as the ‘runner’s high’: a feeling of euphoria along with reduced anxiety and a reduced ability to feel pain. For decades, scientists have associated this phenomenon with a higher level of endorphins in the blood (endorphins are opioids peptides that are believed to raise the mood).

However, recent studies have proven that this feeling is actually related to anandamide, which is fat-soluble and is found in high levels in the blood after running. Anandamide can travel from the blood to the brain, where it can produce that ‘high’ feeling. This is like a neurobiological reward for exercising that makes you feel great.

Cannabis as a road to wellness

Another way of stimulating the endocannabinoid system is by introducing cannabis-derived phytocannabinoids (‘phyto’ = plant) into the body. In contrast to THC, CBD has very low affinity for the endocannabinoid receptors, although scientists have observed that its administration produces an increase in anandamide levels, thereby inhibiting the FAAH enzyme which is responsible for breaking anandamide down. The less FAAH, the longer anandamide stays in the body, which results in improved well-being and mood.

In fact, scientists have discovered that the inhabitants of the leading nations in terms of happiness share the same genetic mutation: they produce less FAAH. Thus, researchers believe that the happiness levels of these citizens are the direct result of having a higher anandamide count in their bodies.

Eating chocolate equals eating anandamide

Chocolate contains more than 300 compounds, including anandamide. While sugar is primarily responsible for making chocolate delicious, scientists believe that other compounds, such as caffeine and the stimulant theobromine, also influence that satisfying feeling that we get when we eat chocolate.

A study that is often cited found that chocolate not only contains small amounts of anandamide, but also of two other compounds that slow down its breakdown, which would in theory lead to the circulation of anandamide around our system for a longer period of time.

Researchers found anandamide in cocoa solids, i.e. the fat-free component of cocoa seeds that gives dark chocolate its intense flavour. This suggests that the darker the chocolate, the more likely it is to contain anandamide.

Black truffles also contain anandamide

This discovery initially baffled researchers because truffles don’t contain any endocannabinoid receptors. The obvious question is: why do truffles need to produce anandamide? Theoretically, this could have an evolutionary explanation: certain truffle-eating animals, such as dogs and pigs, have endocannabinoid receptors, and anandamide could be a positive reward for them, encouraging them to look for more truffles, which in turn would help spread the truffle spores around.

It’s no secret that the price of truffles is through the roof, so there’s probably other more affordable ways to feel a little happiness. As more research is carried out on endocannabinoids, it’ll be interesting to discover how people can benefit from the power of anandamide and whether they really can feel its wonderful effects when exercising or eating certain foods. In the meantime, though, you can always count on some good old cannabis to improve your mood!

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Kannabia accept no responsibility for any illegal use made by third parties of information published. The cultivation of cannabis for personal consumption is an activity subject to legal restrictions that vary from state to state. We recommend consultation of the legislation in force in your country of residence to avoid participation in any illegal activity.