Researchers have found that anandamide, often referred to as the body’s own cannabis, may help us forget traumatic memories.
Anandamide is an endogenous cannabinoid- a cannabinoid that is produced in the body, unlike cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabiniol (THC) which are produced outside and then consumed. This means that the body is able to create the compound whenever it needs to. Used to regulate inflammation and neuron signals, it primarily binds with cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2, just like THC.
Having observed its THC-like behavior, research into how it impacts the body began when Mario Van der Stelt, Professor of Molecular Physiology at Leiden University, asked whether it has the same relaxing effects too.
To begin, researchers isolated a protein called NAPE-PLD that is responsible for the production of anandamide in the brain. Next, during a painstaking process lasting over two years, they synthesized a molecule capable of stopping NAPE-PLD from working so they could then decipher how the compound functions in the body.
"In animal models, LEI-401 (the synthesized molecule that inhibits anandamide production) meant that traumatic memories were no longer erased. In addition, the corticosteroid level was elevated and a brain region was activated that is responsible for the coordination of the stress response. From this, you can infer that anandamide is involved in reducing anxiety and stress." says Van der Stelt.
The researchers think that their findings may open the door for new methods to treat anxiety and other mental health disorders such as PTSD. Having shown anandamine’s ability to help people forget anxiety-inducing memories, they think that pharmaceutical companies may be able to target it to create new treatments. In particular, they suggest looking for molecules that increase the production of the compound or for molecules that reduce the speed at which it metabolizes in the body.