All mammals have an endocannabinoid system, which is a complex network of receptors, enzymes, and molecules that work together to maintain homeostasis.
Homeostasis, or balance, allows all the other systems within our bodies to function at their highest level. Endocannabinoids, such as anandamide, help regulate a number of different functions in our bodies including sleep, appetite, mood, neuroprotection, and immunity.
The discovery of the endocannabinoid (cannabinoids coming from the body) system began with a scientific breakthrough in 1964 when Israeli scientist Dr. Raphael Mechoulam Ph.D. identified and isolated the phytocannabinoids (cannabinoids coming from plants) THC – shortly followed by CBD – for the first time.
This finding was a stepping stone on the path to learning about the endocannabinoid system. “By using a plant that has been around for thousands of years, we discovered a new physiological system of immense importance,” says Dr. Mechoulam. “We wouldn’t have been able to get there if we had not looked at the plant.”
Fast forward a couple of decades to 1988, when the first cannabinoid receptor was discovered in the brain of a rat by Allyn Howlett and William Devane. As it turned out, these receptors were more abundant than any other neurotransmitter in the brain. Cannabinoids produced on their own within our bodies are referred to as endogenous cannabinoids.
What is Anandamide and Why is it Important?
One of these endogenous cannabinoids is known as anandamide. Similar to THC, anandamide interacts with the body’s CB receptors and functions as a signal messenger. Raphael Mechoulam discovered anandamide while searching for the answer to a specific question: Why do our bodies allow endogenous cannabinoids to bind with external cannabinoids (phytocannabinoids) like THC and CBD?
Our bodies cycle through anandamide. It breaks down very easily, so it doesn’t stay in the body for long. However, our bodies create it on-demand to continuously maintain homeostasis. As it’s created, it binds to the CB1 and CB2 receptors, exactly like phytocannabinoids do when ingested. This ability impacts a myriad of physiological processes such as appetite, pain management, neurogenesis, mood fluctuation, memory, learning, and fertility.
Anandamide is commonly known as the “bliss molecule” because of how it balances our body and elevates our mood. Any time our cells, organs, and body systems slip out balance, our endocannabinoid system activates and shifts everything back into place. Our bodies cannot perform optimally if anything is off key, after all, we are greater than the sum of our parts.
The Benefits of this Endocannabinoid
Multiple studies have been conducted on the benefits of being exposed to varying levels of anandamide. A 2015 study, which examined both humans and rats, found that high levels of anandamide contributed to mood enhancement and fear reduction. When the enzymes that break down anandamide were inhibited, that led to a decrease in fear and anxiety when threats were perceived.
A 2009 study linked anandamide to fertility by showing that high levels of this cannabinoid were essential for ovulation and proper fetal development. The study deduced that higher levels of anandamide during times of ovulation contributed to a healthy and successful pregnancy.
Another study published in 2004 found that increased levels of anandamide in the bloodstream of those who had just performed rigorous exercise or physical activity experienced a “euphoric high”, sometimes described as a “runner’s high” or “adrenaline high”. This could be the reason why people who use cannabis often feel more motivated to work out.
Although this is one of the more studied cannabinoids, there is still a lot that remains unknown about the bliss molecule the extent of its functions.