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Anandamide: the THC produced by our body

Anandamide, the THC of the body

Anandamide is a fascinating molecule produced by our body that bears a striking similarity to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive compound in cannabis. In the Cannactiva blog, we explain what anandamide is, its function and benefits, as well as its relationship with cannabis.

What is anandamide?

The anandamide is a neurotransmitter with a molecular structure similar to THC. Its name comes from the Sanskrit “ananda”, meaning “inner happiness”, reflecting its role in modulating mood and feelings of happiness. Discovered in 1992 in the brain of pigs, anandamide was the first endocannabinoid ever identified, revealing that our body produces substances similar to the cannabinoids in cannabis.

Its technical name is N-arachidonoylethanolamine (AEA), and it is a lipid neurotransmitter that could potentially be formed in any cell of the body, although it is found mainly in the brain.

Where is anandamide produced?

Although technically any cell in our body can produce anandamide, it is synthesized in greater quantities in different areas of the brain. In addition, it is also produced artificially in laboratories, especially for study in experimental models to understand its potential action in the human body.

Anandamide and endocannabinoid system

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a unique communication system in the brain and body that affects many crucial functions of the body, and aims to maintain its balance. Within this endocannabinoid system are endocannabinoids such as anandamide, which are substances produced by the body with the ability to bind and activate cannabinoid receptors and other cellular targets (1, 4).

Anandamide is an endocannabinoid that binds to cannabinoid CB1 receptors in the brain in a manner similar to THC, influencing memory, appetite, stress, anxiety and inflammation.

Anandamide binds to cannabinoid CB1 receptors, distributed in different areas of the brain (5), in much the same way as THC from cannabis does.

Effects of anandamide on the body

Endocannabinoids such as anandamide are related to a wide variety of brain processes, such as memory formation, appetite induction, stress, anxiety and inflammation (7-10). It is also linked to multiple brain processes and health conditions, which are discussed in depth a little further down in this post.

Differences and similarities between anandamide, CBD and THC

Anandamide, CBD (cannabidiol) and THC belong to the cannabinoid family, but differ significantly in their origin, function and effects on the human body.

The first difference lies in their origin. Anandamide is produced naturally in our body, especially in the brain, while CBD and THC are produced in the trichomes of the cannabis plant.

THC and anandamide are similar in their effects. The psychoactive component of marijuana and anandamide are similar in that they both bind to the same receptors in the brain (CB1), but THC does so more directly and potently, allowing it to have a psychoactive effect that anandamide does not (3, 6).

CBD, unlike anandamide and THC, does not bind directly to cannabinoid receptors, but acts indirectly by enhancing the effects of other brain chemicals, including serotonin and anandamide.

CBD can increase the levels of anandamide in our body.

In addition, CBD increases the levels of anandamide in our body, as it inhibits the enzyme that breaks down anandamide. In this way, CBD, through the action of anandamide, can act indirectly on CB1 receptors.

Properties of anandamide

Anandamide is linked to multiple brain processes. However, problems in the regulation of anandamide are related to pathological processes. Here are some examples observed in humans:

Obesity

Anandamide is usually elevated in people with obesity and is associated with increased appetite and lack of satiety (11), which does not indicate that anandamide can be used to increase appetite, but rather that it is a biomarker for the detection of obesity. In the future, a strategy may be developed to reduce anandamide in the body and combat obesity.

Cancer

Elevated levels of anandamide have been found in different types of cancer, such as liver, urinary bladder and endometrial cancer in humans (12-15). In preliminary studies, it has been observed that disrupting the binding of anandamide to CB1 receptors and other cellular targets can reduce tumor development (15), but further studies are still needed to address this therapeutic potential of anandamide.

Liver cirrhosis

Anandamide levels appear to be elevated in liver cirrhosis, as in this medical condition there is an overexpression of CB1 receptors in the liver, which is not normal. Blockade of CB1 receptors to anandamide binding has been shown to decrease fibrosis and hepatic hypertension, representing a potential strategy for the treatment of this disease (16, 17).

Neuroprotection

Anandamide appears to be found in elevated amounts in neurodegenerative processes such as Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis, in which it seems to have a neuroprotective effect through the activation of CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors (18, 19) and other pathways involved in neuronal inflammation (20). Although this is in controversy, as CB1 receptor antagonism may reduce brain damage, at least in cases of cerebral ischemia (21).

It is important to clarify that when there are diseases or pathological processes, the endocannabinoid system is in imbalance, altered (with overexpression of some receptors and endocannabinoids). Thus, that more anandamide is found in case of certain conditions, or more endocannabinoid receptors, is a result of the disease, but not vice versa. In other words, increasing anandamide through external substances does not cause a disease.

Can anandamide be taken?

Although anandamide is not available as a supplement, certain foods and compounds can increase its levels.

It has been observed that chocolate can potentiate the effects of cannabis due to its lipid nature, increasing the levels of anandamide in our body and perhaps activating cannabinoid receptors (22).

Consumption of foods such as chocolate is associated with positive effects, such as neuroprotection and a sense of well-being, since technically anandamide is like the THC of the brain.

Chocolate is rich in anandamide, the THC-like component of cannabis that brings us happiness.
Chocolate is rich in anandamide, the cannabinoid-like compound that brings us happiness.

In addition to chocolate, milk contains endocannabinoids, although not in sufficient quantities to produce a visible effect (23).

Other substances can increase the levels of anandamide in our body, such as the aforementioned CBD or cannabidiol. CBD inhibits the enzyme that breaks down anandamide, which is the endocannabinoid enzyme FAAH. In this way, CBD, through the action of anandamide, can act indirectly on CB1 receptors.

Side effects of anandamide

Being a natural compound, anandamide itself does not usually cause adverse side effects. However, manipulating anandamide levels through external substances (such as CBD) could cause effects inherent to those external substances.

Conclusion

Anandamide plays a key role in our sense of well-being and research is underway to better understand how naturally increasing anandamide levels through compounds such as CBD could result in beneficial effects on the body. We will keep you posted!

References
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Masha Burelo
Investigadora en cannabinoides | Doctoranda en Neurociencia

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