The word anandamide may sound like chemistry book jargon, but its name was actually derived from the Sanskrit word for “bliss” or “joy.” Anandamide is often dubbed the “bliss molecule,” because it helps drive feelings of pleasure. As a neurotransmitter, it’s also involved in modulating memory, motivation and appetite, among other functions.
Anandamide was one of the first endocannabinoids discovered by scientists. What makes anandamide especially unique is that it interacts with the same endocannabinoid receptors that the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in cannabis does. This is why some folks are able to experience feelings of euphoria and contentment when consuming THC.
Even though THC and anandamide bind to the same receptors, anandamide is a much more fragile molecule. After it’s produced in the brain, anandamide is quickly broken down into other compounds by an enzyme called fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH). The slower FAAH works, the longer anandamide stays in the body—and the longer it promotes the blissful feeling it’s named for. This chemical pathway is of major interest to scientists, who think that it may lead to treatments for disorders that involve the nervous system, like anxiety.
What’s more, anandamide has been discovered in two foods: chocolate and black truffles.
Chocolate contains more than 300 compounds, including anandamide. While sugar is mostly responsible for making chocolate delicious, scientists think these other compounds, such as caffeine and the stimulant theobromine, also enhance the satisfaction we get when we eat it.
An often-cited study found that chocolate not only contains small amounts of anandamide, but two other compounds that slow down its breakdown, which in theory would allow anandamide to circulate longer in the system.
Researchers found anandamide in cocoa solids, which give dark chocolate its intense flavor. This suggests that the darker the chocolate, the higher the likelihood that it contains anandamide. Milk chocolate, on the other hand, is usually made with a much lower percentage of cocoa solids.
If you’ve ever wondered how to choose dark chocolate with the right percentage of cacao, check out this handy buying guide. And consider applying what you’ve learned the next time you shop for a chocolate-covered cannabis edible.
The winter black truffle also contains anandamide. Initially, this discovery puzzled researchers. Truffles don’t contain endocannabinoid receptors, so why would they need to produce anandamide?
They theorized that it might be because of evolution. Certain animals, like pigs and dogs, have endocannabinoid receptors. The anandamide could provide a positive reward to the animals that eat the truffles, encouraging them to seek out more and spread the spores.
It’s no secret that truffles carry a hefty price tag. (An ounce of black truffles will set you back at least $100.) So unless you have access to a truffle discount, there may be more cost-efficient ways to feel a little bliss.
While anandamide is best known for promoting bliss, research done on mice suggests that it’s also involved in stimulating the appetite. In fact, some researchers think that the entire endocannabinoid system, including anandamide, may play an important role in the development of obesity.
As more research is done on endocannabinoids, it’ll be interesting to find out how people can harness the power of anandamide, and if you can really feel its blissful effects from eating certain foods. In the meantime, you can always count on a little chocolate to boost your mood.
Photo credit: Charisse Kenion