Anandamide is a neurotransmitter that binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain and body, stimulating a sense of happiness and mental well-being.
What you’ll learn about anandamide in this article:
- Why anandamide is called the “bliss molecule”
- The mental health benefits of anandamide
- The link between anandamide, marijuana, and memory
- How to increase anandamide with food, supplements, exercise, and more
Anandamide is a little-known brain chemical that’s been called the “bliss molecule” for the role it plays in producing feelings of happiness.
It also affects your overall health and mental well-being in numerous other ways.
Surprisingly, it works by binding to the same receptors in the brain as the main psychoactive compound in marijuana.
However, there are many ways to increase anandamide without using marijuana.
What Is Anandamide?
Anandamide is a neurotransmitter derived from arachidonic acid, a polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid. (1)
It gets its tongue-twisting name from ananda, the Sanskrit word for “happiness, pleasure, joy, and delight.” (2)
Anandamide is one of the most important endocannabinoids, compounds produced within the body that bind to cannabinoid receptors in the brain and elsewhere throughout the body.
Its discovery traces back to the discovery of receptors for THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the main psychoactive component in marijuana (Cannabis sativa), first in rat brains and eventually in humans. (3, 4)
Scientists were puzzled as to why there were THC receptors in the brain since we do not naturally produce this substance.
The reason for the existence of these receptors remained a mystery until the discovery of anandamide and the realization that it binds to these cannabinoid receptors. (5)
The Health Benefits of Anandamide
After the discovery of anandamide, scientists started looking for cannabinoid receptors and found that the human body is brimming with them!
Besides residing in several regions of the brain, they have been found in the central nervous system, heart, liver, spleen, pancreas, skin, white blood cells, reproductive organs, and in the gastrointestinal and urinary tracts. (6, 7)
Because these cannabinoid receptors are located in so many places, the effects of anandamide are widespread.
Anandamide plays a role in movement control, pain, and appetite. (8)
Some scientists believe that a clinical endocannabinoid deficiency could be a root cause of many conditions including depression, migraines, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, irritable bowel syndrome, and Parkinson’s. (10, 11)
Anandamide can even inhibit the production of cancerous cells. (12)
The Mental Health Benefits of Anandamide
While anandamide bestows a wealth of overall health benefits, mostly it is linked to our state of mind and mental well-being.
Suboptimal levels of anandamide can drain you of happiness, increase fear and anxiety, and rob you of the ability to cope with stress. (13)
The endocannabinoid system, which includes anandamide, offers protection against stress-related psychiatric diseases, including major depression, generalized anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. (14)
Research indicates that inhibiting fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), an enzyme that breaks down anandamide, may be a useful strategy to treat anxiety disorders, traumatic stress, and drug addiction. (15, 16, 17, 18)
The Happiness Gene That Increases Anandamide
Certain countries are thought to have higher rates of happiness than others.
It now looks as if this is due in part to genes which affect levels of anandamide.
Researchers have found a direct correlation between the presence of a gene variant (rs324420) that affects anandamide levels and the level of happiness.
Countries where citizens generally rate themselves as “very happy” have a higher instance of this gene.
This gene increases anandamide by decreasing FAAH, the enzyme that breaks it down. (19)
By keeping levels of anandamide high, this gene increases the likelihood of happier citizens. (20)
Areas of the world with high instances of this gene and high levels of happiness include western Africa, northern Latin America, and northern Europe.
Conversely, populations with reported low levels of happiness and low instance of this gene include areas of the Middle East and eastern Asia.
The Link Between Anandamide, Marijuana, and Memory
Anandamide is an important brain chemical for memory consolidation. (21)
Dr. Gary L. Wenk is a leading authority on the relationship between brain inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease. (22)
One of his avenues of research has been to study the effects of marijuana on mental decline.
He reports that stimulating the brain’s marijuana receptors with anandamide may protect the brain against stroke and neuroinflammation. (23)
He has found that while marijuana interferes with the formation of memories when we’re younger, later in life it protects against age-related cognitive decline by reducing brain inflammation and encouraging the formation of new brain cells.
However, he observes that the dose makes the medicine.
Apparently, one daily puff is all it takes to produce noticeable memory improvement in seniors.
How to Increase Anandamide with Food
Anandamide is obviously responsible for a lot of systemic and mental health benefits.
There aren’t many foods that can increase your levels of anandamide naturally, but the few that exist are positively exquisite!
Chocolate: The Main Food Source of Anandamide
Chocolate is one of our most beloved foods and scientists have been trying to figure out what makes it so appealing.
There are over 300 known biochemicals in chocolate and several, such as caffeine, theobromine, and phenylethylamine, have known mood-boosting effects. (24)
It turns out that chocolate also contains anandamide.
Anandamide, like other neurotransmitters, is broken down quickly, but chocolate contains compounds that slow anandamide’s breakdown.
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It’s also thought that the theobromine in chocolate causes the brain to produce more anandamide. (25)
All these mechanisms work together to increase anandamide and give you a temporary mood boost from eating chocolate. (26)
If you are a chocoholic, you might want to blame anandamide which is suspected of contributing to the addictive nature of chocolate. (27)
To get the most anandamide from chocolate, eat the least adulterated chocolate you can find.
This may mean trading your favorite chocolate bar for cocoa powder or cacao nibs, which are used to create chocolate.
Both of these are significantly less processed than even the best chocolate, contain no sugar, and are a more concentrated source of chocolate’s beneficial compounds.
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The only other food with a significant amount of anandamide is the black truffle (Tuber melanosporum).
Black truffles are mushrooms native to Spain, France, and Italy and grow in forests under oaks and other deciduous trees. (28)
Traditionally, truffle hunters used pigs to seek out truffles buried underground but now use specially trained dogs, which are less damaging to truffle beds and less inclined to eat the profits.
I don’t expect too many people will rely on black truffles to get their mood-boosting dose of anandamide.
Truffles are among the most expensive culinary delicacies in the world.
Black truffles currently run $95 per ounce but are a bargain compared to white truffles, which cost almost twice as much at a jaw-dropping $168 per ounce. (32)
Strange But True: It’s no coincidence that chocolate covered candies are called truffles.
The candies were named after the fungus; take a look at them side by side and you can see why.
But it is a coincidence that each type of truffles, both the mushroom and the chocolate covered variety, are the main food sources of anandamide.
Other Foods That May Increase Anandamide
Besides chocolate and truffles, there are a handful of other foods that contain compounds that increase the amount or activity of anandamide. (33)
Both common black pepper (Piper nigrum) and its hotter cousin long pepper (Piper longum) contain a compound called guineensine that increases the activity of anandamide.
So by eating more foods that contain kaempferol, you can increase your net level of anandamide.
Foods that contain kaempferol include:
- Fruits — apples, blackberries, grapes, peaches, raspberries
- Vegetables — broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, endive, green beans, lettuce, potatoes, spinach, squash, tomatoes
It’s also found in green tea.
Foods that Contain Anandamide Precursors
Anandamide is created from arachidonic acid, an essential omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid.
The main dietary sources of arachidonic acid are meat, eggs, and dairy. (35)
Arachidonic acid can also be synthesized from lineolic acid, which is found in substantial amounts in many popular vegetable oils including safflower, sunflower, and canola.
But since these oils are pro-inflammatory, we don’t recommend them. (36)
However, some lineolic acid is found in a healthy oil we do recommend, olive oil.
While I’ve not seen any scientific evidence that eating more meat or polyunsaturated vegetable oils increases anandamide, it seems to make sense that if the building blocks for anandamide are missing, you’ll have a harder time synthesizing it.
Now, let’s take a look at the handful of supplements that support the production or use of anandamide in the body.
Palmitoylethanolamide (PEA) is a naturally occurring compound that enhances anandamide activity. (37)
It is produced by the body to combat inflammation.
In some countries, PEA is available as a medical food.
PEA is considered very safe and there are no known serious side effects or drug interactions from taking PEA. (42)
The marijuana plant contains over 100 bioactive compounds. (43)
One present in particular abundance is cannabidiol or CBD oil. (44)
CBD oil is not psychoactive and so can be purchased as a nutritional supplement. (45)
But it does inhibit the breakdown of anandamide due to its FAAH content.
Note that if you are looking for a CBD oil supplement, you’ll certainly come across hemp oil.
Many manufacturers claim hemp oil to be the same as CBD oil — but they are not the same thing.
While they both come from the same species, Cannabis sativa, hemp comes from a strain that’s naturally low in cannabinoids.
Also, they are extracted from different parts of the plant using different production methods resulting in a significantly different end product. (48)
So-Called “Anandamide” Powder
If you do an online search for anandamide supplements, you may come across a powder supplement called “Anandamide” by Sun Potion.
It contains cacao powder and a few herbs, many with solid brain-boosting properties, but none known to increase anandamide.
So, beware that this product does not contain any more anandamide than regular cacao powder.
The manufacturer states that the supplement is “named after the cannabinoid neurotransmitter Anandamide,” but clearly this name could be misleading.
Increasing Anandamide with Marijuana
Lastly, no discussion on increasing anandamide would be complete without mentioning marijuana.
THC, the main psychoactive compound in marijuana, binds to the same receptors as anandamide.
If marijuana is legal where you live and you decide to give it a try, keep in mind that it is not right for everyone.
While marijuana can be used to relieve anxiety, increase happiness, and improve memory loss in many people, it can have the opposite effect with others.
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About 20% of the population has a genetic tendency to have less FAAH, the enzyme that breaks down anandamide. (49)
These people tend to be less anxious in general and, interestingly, less inclined to enjoy marijuana.
They are also more likely to experience a decrease in happiness when they partake of it. (50)
Dr. Richard Friedman, an expert in the neurobiology and treatment of mood and anxiety disorders, finds that marijuana “swamps and overpowers” the brain’s cannabinoid system, making it counterproductive for treating anxiety disorders.
He also finds that regular marijuana use interferes with learning and memory.
Other Ways to Increase Anandamide
Not all ways to intentionally increase anandamide involve things you ingest.
Some are things you do instead.
Get in “The Zone”
Have you ever been so engrossed in an activity that time fades away?
This state of heightened focus and peak performance is called being in “the zone.”
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Whenever you’re in “the zone,” your brain is flooded with anandamide and other feel-good brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and endorphins. (51)
For a regular anandamide surge, find an activity that puts you in the zone and do it frequently.
Get Physical Exercise
Exercising to the point of obtaining “runner’s high” is usually attributed to an increase in your body’s natural pain-killing endorphins.
But there’s evidence that endocannabinoids, including anandamide, are more likely the brain chemicals behind runner’s high. (52)
One reason for this change in theory is the discovery that endorphins are too large to cross into the brain, but anandamide is not. (53)
Related article —
Proven Mental Health Benefits of Exercise
Oxytocin is a naturally occurring compound that acts as both a hormone and neurotransmitter.
The most reliable way to increase oxytocin is by physical touch — hugs, cuddles, massage, and making love. (58)
Other ways to increase oxytocin include yoga, meditation, listening to relaxing music, and giving others your undivided attention.
Related article —
How to Increase Oxytocin Naturally
Lastly, you can get an anandamide boost from being manipulated — in a good way of course!
One study found that levels of anandamide increased by an impressive 168% after an osteopathic manipulation. (59)
It’s likely that other treatments such as physical therapy, chiropractic, and massage therapy could offer similar effects.
Anandamide: The Bottom Line
Anandamide is a neurotransmitter that’s been dubbed the “bliss molecule” for the role it plays in happiness and mental well-being.
It is one of the most important endocannabinoids, biochemicals produced within the body that bind to cannabinoid receptors.
THC, the main psychoactive component in marijuana, also binds to these same receptors.
Because these receptors are located in so many areas of the brain and body, the health effects of anandamide are widespread.
Some of the top ways to increase anandamide include exercising, spending time in “the zone,” and eating a little chocolate.