September 11, 2021 3 min read
When thinking about indulging in dessert, nothing quite satisfies a sweet tooth like a decadent chocolate molten lava cake or a gooey chocolate chip cookie hot from the oven. Did you ever wonder why chocolate is so addicting and why it’s the most popular sweet around the world? Eating chocolate is a mood booster that triggers the release of endorphins in the brain and serotonin production, which increases levels of happiness, which is great news for chocoholics, but that’s not all. What about cannabinoids in chocolate?
Cannabis plants (marijuana and hemp) naturally produce complex chemical compounds known as cannabinoids. Some of the most well known and commonly found cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). At the very least, there are over a hundred lesser cannabinoids produced at minute levels by cannabis plants, though it is possible that many have not been found yet due to being present in very trace amounts.
You may be wondering how a chemical compound found in cannabis plants can be connected to chocolate. It comes at no surprise that chocolate does not contain any cannabinoids since it is solely produced by marijuana and hemp plants. However, the idea of cannabinoids in chocolate came about in the 1990s, when researchers found a fatty acid neurotransmitter in cacao that binds to the same cannabinoid receptor in the brain as THC, the compound that is responsible for producing the effect of being high. This new compound was first discovered by Raphael Mechoulam in 1992, a professor of medicinal chemistry in Jerusalem who was studying pig brains. He fittingly named this compound anandamide (ANA) after the Sanskrit word for bliss or delight, “ananda.” Mechoulam explained that "The discovery of anandamide in chocolate is totally unexpected and may be relevant to the well-known chocolate craving.”
Anandamide is actually produced naturally in all animals, including humans, and is the first endocannabinoid (a chemical that interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system) to be discovered by researchers. Just a few plants produce anandamide, most notably, cacao. Two other substances (N-oleoylethanolamine and N-linoleoylethanolamine) found in chocolate work similarly to anandamide, which may boost the overall effects. This is tied to the belief that eating chocolate will increase the effects of marijuana and make you higher.
Though more research needs to be done, anandamide may have many beneficial therapeutic benefits similar to cannabis such as effects on appetite, sleep patterns, and pain relief. This chocolate compound interacts with the body’s central (CB1) and peripheral (CB2) nervous system, the former which controls most of the body’s normal functions and mind.Studies have shown that the endocannabinoid system is important in regulating mood and anxiety, so it is possible that anandamide and cannabis, two chemicals that work with the body’s endocannabinoid system may have significant benefits for those struggling with depression, stress, and anxiety disorders. Another study on anandamide saw that unlike THC, which impairs motor function and cognition, ANA appears “to offer site- and event-specific therapeutic relief in those tissues where endocannabinoids are being produced as part of a physiological protective mechanism.” This means that the body naturally increases the body’s level of anandamide when there are serious issues such as traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis, and certain types of seizures. It suggests that a therapeutic level of anandamide may potentially be used as treatment for neurodegenerative/neuroinflammatory and neurological disorders such as stroke, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, injuries to the spinal cord, traumatic brain injury, and even addiction.
Even though anandamide in cacao interacts with the same cannabinoid receptors as THC and is thought to have many of the same therapeutic benefits, it is found in very trace amounts. If you feel anything at all from chocolate, it will be something much, much milder than what you think of as a “high” even though anandamide mimics some of the effects of marijuana.
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