Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on November 26, 2011
Researchers have discovered a new way to boost the effects of anandamide — a natural chemical in the body that provides pain relief similar to marijuana.
Anandamide has been called the ‘bliss molecule’ for its similarities to the active ingredient in marijuana. As part of the body’s endocannabinoid system, this neurotransmitter has been shown in studies to offer analgesic,antianxiety and antidepressant effects. It also plays a role in regulating food consumption.
In the study, led by Daniele Piomelli, researchers identified an “escort” protein in brain cells that transports anandamide to sites within the cell where it is broken down by enzymes. They discovered that anandamide’s potency is increased when this protein, called FLAT, is blocked.
Previous work by the researchers suggests that compounds boosting anandamide’s natural abilities could form the basis of pain medicationswithout the side effects of sedation, addiction or other central nervous system problems common with existing painkillers, such as opiates.
“These findings raise hope that the analgesic properties of marijuana can be harnessed for new, safe drugs,” said Piomelli, a professor of pharmacology. “Specific drug compounds we are creating that amplify the actions of natural, marijuana-like chemicals are showing great promise.”