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Anandamide: The bliss molecule and its functions

What is Anandamide?

The molecular structure of Anandamide

Anandamide is a fatty acid neurotransmitter found within the endocannabinoid system of our body. It serves a lot of functions in the body like homeostasis, neurogenesis, appetite and inflammation.

The name comes from the Sanskrit word “Ananda” which refers to “happiness, joy, and bliss.” Its name tells a lot about its mood-boosting function.

Anandamide was one of the firsts endocannabinoids to be discovered.

It appeared on the scene in 1992 when William Devane and co-workers isolated it from the pig brain. Later on, various studies discovered its miraculous effects on the human body.

Source of Anandamide:

Anandamide is naturally present in almost all tissues in a variety of animals. Moreover, some plants also contain Anandamide in small amounts, such as chocolates.

Naturally, it forms in the human body from arachidonic acid. Arachidonic acid undergoes non-oxidative metabolism to form Anandamide.

Note that arachidonic acid is an essential fatty acid. This means you need to take it with the diet as the body doesn’t naturally produce it.

Consequently, it is your diet and exercise regime that determines the rate of production of Anandamide in the body.

How does Anandamide work within the Endocannabinoid system?

Example of a neurotransmitter in the body.

Anandamide strongly binds to CB receptors and functions as a neurotransmitter by transmitting messages among the nerve cells. It mimics the action of THC and as a result, it also produces psychoactive effects in the body.

The brain produces Anandamide that helps with better sleep, appetite issues, pain, reward, and pleasure.

Let’s dig into the details to understand these functions in a better way.

Benefits of Anandamide:

Like any other cannabinoids, Anandamides promote harmony to your body’s internal system. And since it is usually produced naturally within our body, it gives a couple of benefits without the need to intake substances.

Below are some of the researches and experiments illustrating the benefits of Anandamides in the body:

  • Successful Pregnancy:

    Scientists carried out a study in 2009 that showed that Anandamide helps in ovulation and hence keeps the pregnancy intact.

    Moreover, the disturbed Anandamide level can induce problems in the fetus. Hence, researchers found it to be one of the factors that are responsible for a successful delivery.

  • Improves Mood:

    In 2015, scientists did another research on humans and mice to analyze the effects of Anandamide.

    This study clearly showed that high levels of Anandamide were very helpful in boosting the mood.

    Consequently, a better mood enhances the performance and hence the quality of life in the individuals.

    It does so by increasing front-amygdala function in humans and mice.

  • Reduces Fear:

    In that same study, they found that Anandamide reduced the fear among the tested individuals.

    Reduced fear ultimately resulted in improved mental well-being and physical performance.

  • Decreased Anxiety:

    Scientists performed this test on humans and mice by enhancing the production of Anandamide in the body and decreasing the enzymes that break down this endocannabinoid.

    Both these factors increased the levels of Anandamide in the body that regulates the amygdala to reduce anxiety and calm the nerves.

  • Homeostasis:

    Cannabinoids bind with CB receptors to shift the body mechanisms to favorable conditions to maintain them despite the fluctuations in the external environment.

    This is commonly referred to as “homeostasis” as it maintains the bodily mechanisms that keep the cellular performance on the right track. 

    Anandamide is one of the cannabinoids that help the body in achieving the state of homeostasis.

  • Neurogenesis:

    The main role of the Anandamide in maintaining homeostasis is to encourage the development of nerve cells in the brain.

    This process is called neurogenesis, and it is very important because memory making and learning are not possible without the formation of new nerve cells.

  • Alteration of feeding habits:

    Anandamide mimics the effects of THC in the feeding habit too.

    It alters the feeding habits such that the appetite increases, and it makes your system tend to demand more food.

    It helps people with low energy levels who find themselves unable to eat the proper amount of food.

  • Beats Insomnia:

    Anandamide induces sleep in the body by increasing the production of adenosine.

    It helps beat insomnia that is either the cause or the result of various mental health issues.

  • Anti-inflammatory effects:

    Scientists ingested Anandamide in rats with periodontitis to see its effect on inflammation.

    Surprisingly, they found out that Anandamide had anti-inflammatory properties as it resulted in diminished inflammation in rats even during a stressful condition.

Anandamide and 2-ag:

2-Arachidonoglycerol (2-AG) and Arachidonoylethanolamide (Anandamide) are the two endocannabinoids as they are two endogenous ligands of CB receptors. 

Paper writers and scientists often list them in the same category as both of them are arachidonic-acid lipid-containing substances.

Although both have structural and functional similarities, some differences mark the basis of their being two separate entities.

Both substances differ in the following aspects:

  • CB1 and CB2 Receptors:

    AG-2 elicits a full response by binding to both CB1 and CB2 receptors. Hence, it is a full agonist of both receptors.

    On the other hand, Anandamide binds to both receptors but doesn’t elicit a full response; it’s a partial agonist of both receptors.

  • Concentration in tissues:

    AG-2 level in certain tissues is a few points higher than the Anandamide level.

    This fact makes AG-2 a major product of the phospholipase Cβ – diacylglycerol lipase pathway.

    Despite having these little differences, it is important to know that they have almost the same physiological effects.

Anandamide vs. THC:

A photo of hemp plants, which is the most common source of THC.

Researches relate Anandamide and THC to each other since they have the same mode of action and similar effects.
However, they have some huge differences that restrict their placement in the same category.

  • Synthesis:

    THC synthesis occurs in Cannabis plants, and consuming the plant is the only source of having THC in your body.

    On the flip side, the Anandamide synthesis takes place inside the body, i.e., the brain.

  • Chemical structure:

    There is little difference between the chemical structures of Anandamide and THC.

    However, they are similar in some aspects too, which makes the body respond to both substances in the same way.

  • Potency at CB1 Receptors:

    THC has a very high potency at CB1 receptors, unlike Anandamide that has lower strength at the same receptors.

  • Duration of Action:

    Neurons rapidly uptake the Anandamide synthesized and released from the brain in two inactivating steps.

    This rapid inactivation is responsible for the shorter action of the duration of Anandamide in vivo and in vitro compared to the THC.

  • Inhibition of pharmacological effects:

    CB1 receptor antagonist Rimonabant effectively inhibits most of the pharmacological effects of THC.

    However, there is no significant study in favor of these antagonists working to suppress the pharmacological effects of Anandamide.

Factors affecting the production of Anandamide:

The body releases a number of natural hormones and other substances. Different factors control their production and concentration so that their abnormal production doesn’t disturb the bodily mechanisms.

Since the body itself produces Anandamide, it has its own means of regulating it.

For instance, the brain of a person who does vigorous exercise makes and releases more Anandamide than the person who doesn’t work out.

That’s why people list “workout” among the factors that can help a person feel good.

Rapid reuptake and oxidation of this substance result in a lowered level of Anandamide in the body.

Foods affecting the level of Anandamide in the body:

Chocolates are the most common sources of Anandamide.

From the above discussion, it is quite clear that although the brain produces Anandamide, it still requires Arachidonic acid to start synthesis.

Arachidonic acid is essential fatty acid as the body doesn’t produce it. One has to consume food containing Arachidonic acid for increased synthesis of Anandamide.

Mechanism of Regulation of Anandamide by Food:

FAAH is the enzyme that is responsible for breaking down the Anandamide. Any food that has the ability to inhibit the production or action of FAAH will cause an increase in the level of Anandamide.

The foods or oral supplements with this property are as follows:

  • CBD:

    CBD is a cannabinoid that comes from the Cannabis plant. It tends to inhibit FAAH resulting in the increased Anandamide in the body.

    That’s why CBD intake also has calming effects on the nerves.

  • Kaempferol:

    Blackberries and apples naturally have yet another FAAH inhibitor, Kaempferol.

    So consumption of apples and blackberries can also induce the sustenance of Anandamide in the body.

  • Chocolate:

    This one food is the most interesting of all the foods we have listed above. Many people claim that chocolates boost up the mood and calm the nerves.

    However, a few people know that chocolates contain ethylenediamine that is also a FAAH inhibitor.

    Hence, chocolates boost up the mood by lowering the rate of breakdown of Anandamide.

    Moreover, foods with Arachidonic acid like meat, dairy products and eggs can increase the production of Anandamide as it is the precursor for the synthesis of Anandamide.

    Precursor for production of Arachidonic acid, i.e. Linoleic acid indirectly performs the same job.

    The vegetable oils contain linoleic acids.

    These natural foods are indirect means of enhancing and boosting up the mood.

End-note:

Research and studies on Anandamide are still in process. But the experiments that the researchers have conducted so far have proved it to be a fantastic “joy-inducing” substance.

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