- A look into a naturally-occurring compound that mirrors another found in Cannabis.
A super-advanced race of evil aliens appears in the sky. Without a word or a sound, they deploy their planet-erasing technology. Slowly, the crust crumbles beneath your feet and evaporates. The lithosphere dissolves, the asthenosphere follows suit. The mantle and core bubble, sputter, and vanish. Thankfully, the planet-erasing technology doesn’t hurt humans, so you’re fine.
Except you’re not. Without the Earth and all its parts, you wouldn’t exist. Our interconnected relationship with everything around us is immutable. Therefore, we are fundamentally the same thing as the rocks we stand on. Attempting to separate us from nature is like separating left from right or up from down; you can’t have one without the other. It’s relational.
That’s why cannabinoids are so fascinating. Our endogenous cannabinoids, like anandamide and 2-AG, are molecularly mimicked by cannabis. Or, is it that our endogenous cannabinoids mimick phytocannabinoids? It doesn’t matter. What we know is that animals and plants are part of one system. We share similar cannabinoids, recycle the atmosphere back and forth, and animals eat the plants that decompose the bodies of dead animals.
It’s all inseparable. However, let’s try to look at what anandamide does in isolation to give us a better understanding of the system as a whole.
Anandamide, or AEA, was the first endogenous ligand discovered. While its actions are largely performed on the endogenous cannabinoid receptors, it appears to have actions outside of the ECS, as well.
According to a 2002 study, AEA also shows actions outside of the ECS system . For example, AEA appears to bind with vanilloid receptor type 1 (VR1). This nonselective cation channel is an “ionotropic” receptor of AEA, according to the authors of the study, where it can potentially facilitate vasodilation, bronchoconstriction, impair tumor cell growth, and induce apoptosis.
When understanding the role of anandamide, perhaps the best thing to do is look at what cannabis has done for people for millennia. According to a 1996 study , AEA does what cannabis consumption does across “various physiological processes.”
By 2017, research  had finally compiled enough to show that AEA plays a role in:
- Central nervous system functioning
- Human reproduction
- Preventing DNA hypomethylation
- And more
Given the unique properties and importance of anandamide, it’s an interesting thought-experiment to consider if the mammalian system thought of the ECS first, or if cannabis taught some ancient, early vertebrate about cannabinoids.
- Di Marzo V et al. “Anandamide receptors.” Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes, and Essential Fatty Acids. 2002. Vol. 66(2-3):377-91. [times cited = 49; Journal Impact Factor = 2.437]
- Stein, EA et al. “Physiological and behavioural effects of the endogenous cannabinoid, arachidonylethanolamide (anandamide), in the rat.” British journal of pharmacology. 1996. Vol. 119.1:107-14. [times cited = 23; Journal Impact Factor = 6.81]
- Maccarrone, Mauro. “Metabolism of the Endocannabinoid Anandamide: Open Questions after 25 Years.” Frontiers in molecular neuroscience. 2017. Vol. 10. [Times cited = 24; Journal Impact Factor = 3.566]