Updated: May 7
There are two sources of the cannabinoids that bind with the microscopic cellular receptors that populate the human endocannabinoid system (ECS): The cannabis plant and our own bodies. Cannabinoids produced internally are known as endocannabinoids (or endogenous cannabinoids). Those manufactured by cannabis are categorized as phytocannabinoids and include the infamous delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
The anandamide molecule
Two Major Endocannabinoids
The two major endocannabinoids are 2-AG and anandamide. Anandamide (also known as N-arachidonoylethanolamine or AEA) was first isolated and identified in 1992 by two independent research teams: The same Israeli researcher who isolated and synthesized THC in the mid-1960s, Raphael Mechoulam, and NIMH researchers William Devane and Lumir Hanus.
Anandamide Research Studies
Interestingly, anandamide is produced outside of the human body by multiple plants, including truffles (the winter black variety) and cacao. According to a 2015 study, "truffles contain the major metabolic enzymes of the ECS, [but] do not express the most relevant endocannabinoid-binding receptors [CB1 and CB2]."
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The levels of anandamide produced by cacao and found in dark chocolate are believed to be too low to affect a consumer's psychological state via an improvement of mood. Reported the 2015 book Chocolate and Health: Chemistry, Nutrition, and Therapy, "It is unlikely that chocolate's anandamide level could actively trigger a psychological response."
However, cacao produces two chemicals that are similar to anandamide that synergistically interact with the ECS to prevent the metabolic breakdown of anandamide. This results in increased bioavailability and greater potency than would be achieved by anandamide acting in isolation. The potency amplification and mood improvement resulting from the synergistic interplay of these three molecules manufactured by cacao may result in true mood improvement—and help explain the craving that some humans experience for dark chocolate.
A 2019 study explored the ability of anandamide to reduce anxiety. "Our data suggest that...elevated [anandamide]...reduces stress, anxiety, and fear." The research uncovered "new insights on the mechanisms by which...endocannabinoid signaling regulates emotional behavior."
The study found a direct relationship between anandamide levels and emotional behavior and identified the areas of the brain in which this mechanism occurs. "Our results indicate that the ability of anandamide signaling to regulate emotional behavior is nonlinear and may involve actions at distinct neuronal populations, which could be influenced by the basal level of anandamide."
A 2015 study investigated the ability of anandamide to diminish or erase fear-based memories, making it of potential therapeutic value in the treatment of trauma-related conditions such as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and social anxiety. "Our results demonstrated enhanced fear extinction in human and mouse carriers," reported the study, including "reduced levels of...anxiety."
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