The endocannabinoid system in the human body

Dr Sona A Pungavkar
When one comes across people who are always happy, rather than assuming that they have been born happy and have an ideal life, one could attribute it to the person having a robust Endocannabinoid system in her or his body, with abundance of “Anandamide”.
The endocannabinoid system is a receptor system, which is found in various organs of the entire vertebrate family, including us, humans, especially in the brain, spinal cord and immune system.
Anandamide is a molecule, scientifically named as as N-arachidonoylethanolamine or   N-AEA, is a neurotransmitter and cannabinoid produced by the human body and hence is called as the endocannabinoid. It attaches to the endocannabinoid receptors and makes several important bodily systems work. The chemical structure of the Anandamide molecule resembles that of tetrahydrocannabidiol (THC), the psychoactive component, found in the Cannabis plant. It has been named after a Sanskrit word-Anand signifying bliss, joy, happiness and is also called as the “ bliss molecule.” 2-AG is another, Cannabis – like,endogenousmolecule produced by the human body.
So in simple terms, when Anandamide and 2-AG get attached to the endocannabinoid receptors in the organs, a state of balance for the body and mind is achieved. Hence, it regulates the mood, feeling of happiness, motivation, fear or anxiety and capacity to endure stress. Stimulating the receptor system also reduces the inflammation in the brain and helps in diseases such as Alzheimer’s. It can thus help the aging brain. Disturbance in the system could be a cause of schizophrenia to depression.
The robustness of the endogenous system depends on a genetic mutation, which causes decreased production of an enzyme fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), responsible for the breakdown of anandamides. When this enzyme is low, the concentration of anandamides is more and hence, these people do not feel the high expected with Cannabis, but actually feel anxiety, lack of motivation and decrease in happiness.
Anandamide has been shown to have several beneficial effects, such as decreasing the rate of formation of breast cancer cells. Articles have mentioned promotion of neurogenesis in the hippocampus by anandamide, which is the centre for emotion and memory. It is also known to provide relief in depression and anxiety.
So what can we do to give this bliss provoking neurotransmitter a natural boost?The production and breakdown of anandamides, can be increased by certain actions.
The ‘endorphin rush’ is the term used to describe “the high” experienced after running. However, there is more toit. Levels of anandamides have been shown to increase just after 30 minutes of exercise and provide gives the feel good factor.
2. Taking Cannabidinol (CBD)
The endocannabinoid system can be stimulated by ingestion of phytocannabinoids from the cannabis plant. Tetrahydrocannabidol (THC), the psychoactive component, fits perfectly into the endocannabinoid receptors in the brain and spinal cord, creating the high effect. However, CBD has a different action. It has a decreased affinity for the receptors. It inhibits the enzyme responsible for breaking down of anandamidesand hence,a higher concentration of anandamidesis maintained in the body, with mood elevating and anti-anxiety effects.
3. Eating Chocolates
Dark chocolate or cocoa increase anandamides in two ways; by stimulating the endocannabinoid receptors, and like CBD, blocking the enzyme responsible metabolism of anandamides. A substance similar to caffeine, called theobromine, is found in chocolate, in addition to phenylalanine. Theobromine helps to increase anandamide production in the brain by slowing down the breakdown. It may explain why there is a craving felt for chocolates in most individuals.
4. Eating truffles
Anandamides have also been found in black truffles, which are a form of fungus. The plant does not use the anandamides in any way. However, it is considered that, anandamides in the truffles, are a way of luring the animals into eating the fungi. Animals eat the truffles, which in turn causes release of their spores and allows propagation. However, eating truffles can be heavy on the pocket, as these are considered a delicacy.
5. Ingesting Kaempferol
Another phytonutrient which can decrease the action of FAAH, the enzyme causing breakdown of anandamides, is Kaempferol, a flavonoid found in fresh fruitssuch as apples, grapesand vegetables such as, tomatoes, potatoes, onions, and broccoli. However, the effect is not high as seen with chocolate or truffles.
6. Being in the zone
Another way of increasing endocannabinoids is by focusing and being productive during work or while practicing a hobby, i.e at peak performance. Feel-good chemicals, such as serotonin, dopamine, endorphins are known to increase during this time. Also, the level of anandamides also increases and adds to the good feeling.

 The author is a Cannabis researcher, a senior radiologist and vice president, Cannabis Health and Sciences