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Your Brain On Chocolate: Marijuana-Like Chemicals Explain Why We Crave It
TruthOnPot.com – Chocolate can be more than just a comfort food, although many have yet to realize this. But it turns out chocolate also contains a number of chemicals that act on the brain, including anandamide – a compound that works a lot like marijuana.
Although anandamide was first identified in chocolate in 1996, a recent paper reveals that humans have been consuming chocolate for both medicine and pleasure for hundreds of years. Starting to sound more like marijuana? It gets better.
The findings, presented at the University of Manchester this weekend as part of the 2013 International Congress on the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, show that chocolate wasn’t always accepted as a good thing. In fact, there was a time when chocolate was blamed for at least some of the ills of society – once again, the similarity to marijuana is remarkable.
Despite the fact that cocoa beans – the primary ingredient in chocolate – were first consumed by the Mayans over 2,000 years ago and later used as a medicine by the Aztecs in the 14th Century, doctors in Mexico began to view chocolate as a harmful substance at the peak of its popularity in the late 1700′s.
Dr. Mauricio Sanchez Menchero, a researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and author of the recent paper, told BBC News that even a sharp rise in price did nothing to stop the chocolate epidemic, which seemed to afflict women far more often than men. As a result, contemporary doctors were convinced that chocolate played a major role in sickness, especially the ‘disease of hysteria’. Dr. Menchero notes that hysteria was an ambiguous term commonly used at the time to justify the inferiority of women – in this case, a direct result of eating chocolate.
But what actually caused women of the 18th Century to become addicted to the bitter, dark chocolate that seems to hold less appeal than the sugary, milk chocolate of today? According to BBC News, anandamide could be the explanation.
“Many people would claim to crave chocolate and enjoy the feeling that eating it induces.”
“The key to this may be a chemical called anandamide, which is similar to the compounds released when cannabis is taken.”
But anandamide (AEA) – which is also produced naturally by the human body – isn’t the only chemical in chocolate that mimics the activity of cannabis compounds (known as cannabinoids). In fact, researchers have identified a number of chocolate-derived chemicals that can activate the human cannabinoid system, both directly and indirectly.
Chemicals like 2-AG – a cannabinoid also found in human milk – and oleamide – a sleep-inducing chemical that increases anandamide levels – are actually present in chocolate at higher concentrations than anandamide itself.
According to Dr. Daniele Piomelli, one of the scientists who first identified cannabinoids in chocolate, these chemicals likely play a larger role than anandamide in the pleasure that comes from eating chocolate. On the other hand, Piomelli told Science News that the cannabinoid activity of chocolate may be more specific than THC, since anandamide already exists in the brain to control certain functions.
“If one smokes a joint, its THC goes into the brain and activates all of the [cannabinoid] receptors. So you get a global high.”
Still, the cravings for chocolate that some people experience are undeniable and Piomelli believes that cannabinoids may even be responsible for chocolate’s modest therapeutic effects. Increasing the strength of these chemicals could be one way of treating certain disorders, he suggested.
“People already self-prescribe chocolate for depression. But presumably, one can come up with something more potent than these compounds in chocolate.”
Interestingly, dark chocolate seems to possess a much higher amount of cannabinoids (two to three times more) than milk chocolate. This may also explain why people who crave chocolate tend to crave rich, dark chocolate over their cheaper, more sugary counterparts. And that’s probably a good thing, since dark chocolate can also help with high blood pressure and is believed to be the healthier choice overall.
Boosting your cannabinoid system may just be an added plus, although feeling good could be just as important for chocolate lovers. Calories and blood pressure are often distant thoughts when a craving for chocolate strikes. And if you happen to be a victim of this, at least now you know why.