Getting High Without Drugs: Anandamide!
Like the pharmacologically active compounds in marijuana or Cannabis sativa (being THC or tetrahydrocannabinol primary psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis), Anandamide exerts its effects through binding to and activating specific cannabinoid receptors, designated ‘CB1′ and ‘CB2′. CB1 is found in the central nervous system and in some other organs, including the heart, uterus, testis and small intestine, while the CB2 receptor is found in the periphery of the spleen and other cells associated with immunochemical functions, but not in brain.
Interestingly, it was the study of the effects of marijuana that led to the discovery of the cannabinoid receptors. But at that point the researchers knew that something was missing, because our body doesn’t create receptors that don’t have natural internal ligands or triggers (being marijuana an external trigger). So, they began the search (like the templars pursuing their Holy Grail) for the natural internal trigger somewhere that stimulated CB(1), discovering our celestial molecule, Anandamide.
Anandamide’s long hydrocarbon tail makes it fat-soluble and allows it to easily slip across the hydrocarbon-rich curtain (the hematoencephalic barrier) that isolates the brain from the bloodstream. Sadly, unlike THC, anandamide is fragile, and it breaks down very quickly in the body. The responsable is the fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) enzyme which converts anandamide into the inactive ethanolamine and arachidonic acid. That explains why anandamide doesn’t produce a perpetual natural ‘high. Inhibitors of FAAH lead to elevated anandamide levels and are being pursued for therapeutic use.
Anandamide’s function is not just to produce bliss. It seems that it is a busy substance, related to a great bunch of systems. Here are listed some of them:
Effect in memory
Anandamide has been shown to be involved in working memory. This molecule is synthesized enzymatically in areas of the brain that are important in memory and higher thought processes, and in areas that control movement.
Some biochemical evidence suggests that anandamide plays a role in the making and breaking of short term neural connections. And animal studies suggest that anandamide induces forgetfulness. Substances that keep anandamide from binding to its receptor might be used to treat memory loss.
Bond between Mother and Embryo
Anandamide is also important for implantation of the early stage embryo in its blastocyst
form into the uterus. It acts as a chemical messenger between the embryo and uterus
during implantation of the embryo in the uterine wall. As such, it’s one of the first
communications that occurs between mother and child.
Exogenous cannabinoids, such as THC might interfere with the earliest stages of human pregnancy.
Anti psychotic activity
Heavy cannabis use has been linked to psychosis in the past, leading researchers to look for a connection between the brain’s natural cannabinoid system and schizophrenia.
It was discovered that people that suffered psychotic attacks released high levels of anandamide,and there is a theory that says that this could be to help control them. It is based on the fact that people with the worst symptoms might be unable to produce sufficient anandamide to prevent them.
Anandamide also is important in the regulation of feeding behavior, and the neural generation of motivation and pleasure. Both anandamide and exogenous cannabinoids like THC enhance food intake in animals and humans, an effect that is sometimes called the ‘marijuana munchies.’ In addition, anandamide injected directly into the forebrain reward-related brain structure nucleus accumbens enhances the pleasurable responses of rats to a rewarding sucrose taste, and enhances food intake as well.
Studies are under way to explore what role anandamide plays in human behavior, such as eating and sleep patterns, and pain relief.
What about the Runner’s High?
Multiple long distance runners have reported a strange phenomenon, described as “The runners High”. They say that at some point of their exercise (8th or 9th mile would be the average) they get these complex merge of feelings, going from an euphoric state, mixed with optimism, relaxation and liberated mind. They describe it as some sort of meditative Red Sox’s hometown win state.
As odd as this may seem, it has some scientific backup, Dr. Daniele Piomelli (UC Irvine) and Dr. Arne Deitrich (University of Beirut and Georgia Institute of Technology), looking for the runner’s high connection, performed a study in early 2004 with two dozen college students who ran or bicycled for 40 minutes at 76 percent of their max heart rate, and then had blood samples drawn immediately after exercising. The results showed that both the runners and bicyclists had 80% more anandamide in their blood after exercising, with the greatest increase among the runners. They also reported physical feelings similar to marijuana use, such as relaxation, regulated mood, and increased appetite. Plus, they found that tempo running produced the most anandamide of all exercise.
Food Sources: Where can we find it?
If you had to choose, what would be your guess if I told you to describe where can we found this blissful molecule?
I think the answer is crystal clear: chocolate!!!
Anandamide occurs in minute quantities in cocoa (fermented Theobroma cacao) beans, but what increases it’s effect is the presence of other chemicals (probably some FAAH enzyme inhibitors) in chocolate which may inhibit the natural breakdown of anadamide. This means that natural anandamide (or introduced anandamide) may stick around longer, making us feel good longer, when we eat chocolate.
Non the less, more research need to be done to understand the effects of chocolate on the brain.