Anandamide: Bliss Molecule for Happiness & Mental Balance

Edited and medically reviewed by Patrick Alban, DC | Written by Deane Alban

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Anandamide is a neurotransmitter that binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain and body, stimulating a sense of happiness and mental wellness.

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 wellness in numerous other ways.

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).

THC receptors were first found in rat brains and later were found 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 memory, appetite, sleep, and pain relief. (8)

The endocannabinoid system — endocannabinoid compounds and their receptors — acts as a regulator that keeps the brain and body in a state of balance, called homeostasis. (9)

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)

Anandamide can even inhibit the production of cancerous cells. (11)

The Mental Health Benefits of Anandamide

While anandamide bestows a wealth of overall health benefits, mostly it is linked to mental health and 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.

The endocannabinoid system, which includes anandamide, offers protection against stress-related psychiatric diseases, including major depression, generalized anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. (12)

Research indicates that inhibiting fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), an enzyme that breaks down anandamide, may be a useful strategy to treat cogntive dysfunction, anxiety disorders, traumatic stress, and drug addiction. (13, 14, 15, 16)

The Happiness Gene That Increases Anandamide

Certain countries are known to have higher rates of happiness than others.

It now looks as if this is due in part to genes that 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. (17)

This gene increases anandamide by decreasing FAAH, the enzyme that breaks it down.

By keeping levels of anandamide high, this gene increases the likelihood of happier citizens.

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.

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The Link Between Anandamide, Marijuana, and Memory

Anandamide is an important brain chemical for memory consolidation. (18)

Dr. Gary L. Wenk is a leading authority on the relationship between brain inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease. (19)

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. (20)

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 and that “one puff is enough.”

This 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 do 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 1,500 known biochemicals in chocolate and several, such as caffeine, theobromine, and phenylethylamine, have known mood-boosting effects. (21)

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. (22)

It’s also thought that chocolate may cause the brain to produce more anandamide.

All these mechanisms work together to increase anandamide and give you a temporary mood boost from eating chocolate. (23)

If you are a chocoholic, you might want to blame anandamide which is suspected of contributing to chocolate’s addictive nature. (24)

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.

Black Truffles

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. (25)

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.

Truffle-hunting pigs and dogs have anandamide receptors which may explain why they seek out truffles with great enthusiasm! (2627)

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. (28)

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.

photos of chocolate truffles compared to black truffle mushrooms
Chocolate truffles vs black truffle mushrooms. (Image courtesy of ReluctantGourmet.com)

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.

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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. (29)

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.

Kaempferol is a type of flavonoid that inhibits the production of FAAH, the enzyme that breaks down anandamide. (30)

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. (31)

Arachidonic acid can also be synthesized from linoleic 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. (32)

However, some linoleic 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.

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Anandamide Supplements

Now, let’s take a look at the handful of supplements that support the production or use of anandamide in the body.

Palmitoylethanolamide

Palmitoylethanolamide (PEA) is a naturally occurring compound that enhances anandamide activity. (33)

It is produced by the body to combat inflammation.

It can be isolated from soybean lecithin, egg yolk, and peanut meal to create supplements. (34)

In some countries, PEA is available as a medical food.

More than 800,000 patients have been treated with PEA around the world, mainly to treat pain. (35)

PEA is considered very safe and there are no known serious side effects or drug interactions from taking PEA. (36)

CBD Oil

The marijuana plant contains over 100 bioactive compounds. (37)

One present in particular abundance is cannabidiol or CBD. (38)

CBD is not psychoactive and so can be purchased as a nutritional supplement.

It does not bind to cannabinoid receptors and will not get you high. (39, 40)

It works in part by inhibiting the action of the FAAH enzyme, resulting in a net increase in anandamide. (41)

While both marijuana and hemp are the same species, Cannabis sativa, they are different varieties that have different characteristics.

CBD supplements are derived from hemp and must contain less than 0.3% THC to be legally sold in the United States. (42)

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.

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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 on others.

About 20% of the population has a genetic tendency to have less FAAH, the enzyme that breaks down anandamide. (43, 44)

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.

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.”

Whenever you’re in “the zone,” your brain is flooded with anandamide and other feel-good brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and endorphins. (45)

For a regular anandamide surge, find an activity that puts you in the zone and do it frequently.

Do 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. (46)

One reason for this change in theory is the discovery that endorphins are too large to cross into the brain, but anandamide is not.

Exercise not only increases anandamide but increases the sensitivity of anandamide receptors. (47, 48)

Increase Oxytocin

Oxytocin is a naturally occurring compound that acts as both a hormone and neurotransmitter.

It stimulates the production of anandamide and so, by increasing oxytocin, you may also increase anandamide. (49)

The most reliable way to increase oxytocin is by physical touch — hugs, cuddles, massage, and making love. (50)

Other ways to increase oxytocin include yoga, meditation, listening to relaxing music, and giving others your undivided attention.

One study found that levels of anandamide increased by an impressive 168% after an osteopathic manipulation. (51)

It’s likely that other treatments such as physical therapy, chiropractic, and massage therapy could offer similar effects.

Anandamide: Take the Next Step

Anandamide is a neurotransmitter that’s been dubbed the “bliss molecule” for the role it plays in happiness and mental wellness.

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,” taking the right supplements, and enjoying high-quality chocolate.

READ NEXT: 9 Proven Brain Benefits of Dark Chocolate