Anandamide: What Does Science Know so Far?

Anandamide, also known as ‘the bliss molecule’ was discovered in the 1980s. Since then, scientists have been fascinated by studying the healing properties of anandamide. And it’s easy to see why they’re so interested. Anandamide can reduce inflammation, relieve anxiety, pain, depression and chronic stress. This miraculous molecule can reduce the rate at which cancer cells multiply It can even relieve the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. There is still much to learn about anandamide and research is ongoing. But here’s a comprehensive overview of anandamide, and everything we know so far. 

What is anandamide and how was it discovered?

An alternative anandamide definition is arachidonylethanolamine. But, no matter which term you use to describe it, anandamide is an endocannabinoid. It is a substance produced by the body. This substance binds to the brain’s cannabinoid receptors, inducing a number of positive effects on the central nervous system. And you guessed it. The scientific name for the endocannabinoid system comes from the cannabis plant.

It all started in the 1960s when scientists were studying the effects of marijuana and THC on our brain and its receptors. They wanted to know how marijuana interacted with the brain and the body. What was it about marijuana that caused the euphoric effect? During the research, scientists made a fascinating discovery about cannabinoids.

They found special receptors in the brain, which formed parts of the endocannabinoid system. They called these ‘cannabinoid receptors’ due to the nature of their research. As they discovered, these brain receptors would bind THC, one of the primary cannabinoids in marijuana. This puzzled the scientists. Why on earth was our brain built to interact with this component if our bodies don’t naturally produce THC? The answer turned out to be anandamide.

But it wasn’t until 1988 that Dr. Allyn Howlett and colleagues of St. Louis University Medical School discovered the anandamide receptor’s protein. And in 1992,Raphael Mechoulam first described the molecule and named it ‘anandamide’.

 We now know that the cannabinoid receptors were designed to interact with anandamide, not THC or marijuana. This makes sense because the body produces certain amounts of anandamide naturally. What they didn’t know back in the 1960s was that THC acts in a very similar way to anandamide. In other words, it isn’t that the cannabinoid receptors in the brain are designed to receive THC. It’s just that the brain is confusing it for anandamide.

What does the term ‘anandamide’ mean?

 Anandamide isa type of fatty acid amide. Its name is made up of the term ‘Ananda’ and ‘amide’. Knowing what ‘Ananda’ stands for can give you a good idea of the effects of anandamide. It can also tell you why scientists have been so fascinated by studying anandamide.

Ananda is the Sanskrit word for ‘joy, bliss, or happiness’. In the Hindu Vedas, ananda signifies eternal bliss, which is believed to accompany the ending of the rebirth cycle. And the endocannabinoid anandamide can produce a euphoric effect on the brain and the body.

What is anandamide?

Anandamide falls into several different scientific categories.

What are the effects of anandamide on the body?

Inducing bliss is only one anandamide function. Anandamide can have many positive effects on the body, the central nervous system and mental health. This is why it’s important to keep anandamide levels balanced. Some of these effects may seem fairly trivial – anandamide causes the ‘runner’s high‘ after exercising. Other anandamide effects, however, are ground-breaking. For example, anandamide can improve Alzheimer’s symptoms. That’s a fascinating property, considering that Alzheimer’s is a disease that has no known cure.

 Anandamide acts similarly to THC, the main psychoactive compound in marijuana. Like THC, anandamide creates the sensation of being high. This is why, once you get into a regular exercise routine, you may experience what feels like an addiction. The more you exercise, the more you may crave it. The high which you get after exercising is what keeps you hooked, and this high is created by anandamide.

Anandamide is also an analgesic. This means it can inhibit pain.

And it can even slow down the development of cancer. One study found that anandamide can slow down cancer cell proliferation. This is the rate at which a cancer cell can copy its own DNA and divide into two cells. Over time, these cells can form a malignant tumour. Anandamide can slow this process down.

Anandamide can also ease the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. A study  on the elderly found that anandamide can reduce inflammation in the brain. This can relieve the symptoms of Alzheimer’s.  

Anandamide can also increases neurogenesis (the formation of new nerve cells in the brain). Besides, anandamide can ease symptoms of anxiety, depression and chronic stress. These are some of the main inhibitors of neurogenesis

Increasing anandamide levels in the body is clearly beneficial. But anandamide deficiency can have a serious negative impact on the body. The proper scientific term for this is Clinical Endocannabinoid Deficiency (CECD).

CECD can lead to the development of:

There may even be a link between CECD and autism. Research has found that autistic children who exhibit phobias, frustration and rages may have a lower level of anandamide in the brain.

But it’s never good to have too much of a good thing. Too much anandamide can also have a negative impact on the brain receptors and the body. For example, if you exercise too much, your brain won’t produce as much anandamide. And it may lead to the development of Anorexia and Binge Eating Disorder (BED).

Why? Because the endocannabinoid system is responsible for controlling food intake in both animals and humans. It modulates aspects of eating behaviour. And studies have shown that people who suffer from Anorexia and Binge Eating Disorder (BED) have heightened levels of anandamide in the blood. However, food disorders are very complex. Many other factors contribute to the development of these illnesses. So scientists are cautious to draw a conclusive link between increased levels of anandamide and the development of food disorders.

Another fascinating study found that extremely high levels of anandamide can lead to having no pain and no fear. The study was carried out on a Scottish woman. She had a rare genetic mutation in the Fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAHH) gene. FAHH is what breaks down anandamide in the body. The woman’s condition meant that she had unusually high anandamide levels. She was completely immune to anxiety and unable to experience fear. She was also hypoalgesic (insensitive to pain). It might seem nice to have a condition where one cannot feel any pain or fear. But pain has an important role to play in our development. The pain response is what protects us from things that are dangerous to us. Because the woman couldn’t feel any pain, she suffered frequent burns and cuts. Interestingly though, they did heal quicker than in an average person.

The body produces some anandamide naturally. But you can also boost your levels of anandamide by eating certain foods and doing physical activity.

Where can anandamide be found?

Your body produces a certain amount of anandamide naturally. But there are certain anandamide foods and supplements that you can take to boost the ‘bliss molecule’ in your system.

Take chocolate, for example. Cacao, the main ingredient in chocolate, contains small amounts of anandamide. It can slow down the rate at which your body breaks down the ‘bliss molecule’, making its effects linger for longer. But only dark, bitter chocolate that’s free from sugar and additives deserves the term ‘anandamide chocolate’. And, in a way, eating chocolate may induce a similar high to smoking pot. And it may explain those chocolate cravings that so many of us experience.

There are also copious amounts of anandamide found in black truffles. This rare delicacy certainly isn’t cheap, but the good news is you only need to add very small amounts to your food in order to boost your levels of anandamide.

For a simpler change, you can also try adding more olive oil and black pepper to your food. Both of these contain compounds that can increase the levels of anandamide and trigger the brain’s cannabinoid receptor.

While science is yet to come up with something as convenient as ‘anandamide pills’, you may want to consider taking an anandamide supplement. Some of these include the kava plant, maca and magnolia birch extract, among others. You can even buy anandamide powder from certain retailers. However, this is likely to contain a more concentrated dose of food supplements, including Ashwagandha, Reishi, Mucuna Pruriens, Maca, Rose Petals, Moringa, Astragalus, Cinnamon, Turmeric, Cayenne, Cardamom and Himalayan Pink Salt.