Anandamide: The Brain’s THC

Anandamide is an endogenous neurotransmitter, which simply means that it is a naturally occurring chemical messenger in the brain. This recently recognized neurotransmitter was named after the ancient Sanskrit word ananda, which means “bliss.”

Neurotransmitters are called messengers because they travel from neurons to the receptors of other neurons (nerve cells) with chemical “messages” that tell the neurons which body and brain tasks to regulate. The receptors have to be a perfect fit for the neurotransmitters to bind to or the message won’t be received; absolutely nothing will happen.

On the other hand, when there is a perfect fit between neurotransmitter and the receptor on the neuron, they will bind together and the message will be received and the instructed task will be achieved. It’s very similar to handheld radios. Both people holding the radios must be on the same wavelength, that is, their radio dials have to be set to the exact same number in order for one person to send a message and for the other one to receive it. If they are not on the same channel then there is no communication at all because there is not a perfect fit.

Naturally occurring neurotransmitters in the brain have specific jobs or tasks and each neurotransmitter regulates different functions in the body and the brain. Epinephrine and norepinephrine are two neurotransmitters that help the body manage stress. Dopamine plays the role of reward-giver to nerve cells and thus, to the body and the brain. Serotonin regulates learning, sleep, and mood. All of these neurotransmitters fit snuggly into their targeted receptors so they are successful in accomplishing their intended functions.

Anandamide is a neurotransmitter that is important in memory, appetite, pain and depression, along with fertility. This neurotransmitter is now understood to trigger the receptors that allow the cannabinoid THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) in marijuana to bind with its receptors in the brain. Anandamide, by way of its streamlined structure, is also capable of passing through the blood/brain barrier on its own. Even though it is named after the word for “bliss” it doesn’t produce a very long or sustained euphoric mood or high because it is short-lived and quite delicate in its makeup.

Recent studies on animals and anandamide point to this neurotransmitter producing forgetfulness. That is not necessarily a bad thing, however, because it has pushed researchers forward into testing substances that might keep anandamide from targeting and binding to its receptors. That, of course, would be a huge breakthrough in the treatment of expanding human memory capability and treating the loss of memory.

Anandamide has also been discovered in dark chocolate! Yes, that is exciting and it explains a great deal. Our feelings of well-being and even elation when we eat dark chocolate are brought on by the release of the naturally occurring anandamide in the chocolate itself. Once the anandamide binds with its perfectly fitted receptor in the brain then we get a taste (no pun intended) of a THC high. We also get a rush from a dopamine release, which makes us a bit euphoric.

Based on this news you shouldn’t run out and buy a pound of dark chocolate to get high on. First of all, it won’t be good for your digestion and secondly, you would need over twenty pounds of that exotic treat to duplicate a real and sustained THC high. However, by the time you ate a pound of dark chocolate, which would be tasty for the first few bites, you would probably already be in the emergency room wishing you were somewhere else. So, listen to your neurotransmitters closely, and remember to always be moderate when searching for your bliss.

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