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Your Brain On Chocolate: Marijuana-Like Chemicals Explain Why We Crave It

By on July 28, 2013
Chocolate contains a number of chemicals that act on the brain in the same way as marijuana

Chocolate contains a number of chemicals that act on the brain in the same way as marijuana – 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.

The Aztecs made flavored drinks out of cocoa beans and used them to treat a variety of common illnesses.

The Aztecs made flavored drinks out of cocoa beans and used them to treat a variety of common illnesses. Cocoa beans were also presented as offerings to the gods.

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.

Cannabinoids from cannabis mimic the activity of cannabinoids found in the human body.

Cannabinoids from cannabis mimic the activity of cannabinoids found in the human body. Both bind to specific receptors called cannabinoid receptors.

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.”

Marijuana-infused chocolate has already been developed by a number of companies, including the award-winning Bhang Chocolate brand.

Marijuana-infused chocolate has already been developed by a number of companies, including the award-winning Bhang Chocolates brand.

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.

  • Blossom

    The chemical ingredients explain why some, especially children hav bad behaviour after eating chocolate – “high” and uncontrollable unless you break the law and physically hold them. e,g, one I know “trashes” the house.

    • PickinBlossoms

      You’re clearly an uneducated moron. “High” and uncontrollable? That doesn’t describe anyone after ingesting chocolate OR cannabis. Ingesting refined sugar, maybe. But REAL organic chocolate has zero of that. Smoke some weed, mellow out… Then get back to me about how you’re sorry for not researching proof before become just another idiot who spreads rumors on the internet…

      • Blossom

        If you have to be so rude, try living with a child who gets hyped up, and yes I have had to restrain her to prevent her from hurting herself and others.
        We tried organic chocolate too. We even took her to an allergist.
        Normal chocolate has caffeine and other ingedients. For one thing there are bugs that live on cocao trees that minute amounts of end up in the chocolate we buy including organic and they do not list any hint of it. Go and watch chocolate and other chocolate products being made in a factory as we did as a family.
        If you are going to stick to organic foods I hope you only drink water. You would be surprised what is in ALL other drinks and many foods too.
        I have also had personal dealings with 2 people who smoke “weed” and witnessed their behaviour. It affects different people in different ways. I know one family with children that have banned others from smoking in their house as one child suffers from asthma which is triggered by all types of smoke in general including bbqs. I have also witnessed that.
        I never attacked anybody in person, I simply stated facts that I have witnessed personally, and in the case of the chocolate with a child have been on the “receiving” end which resulted in a badly bruised leg amd hit over the head with a book. She even threatened her Mum with a knife on one occasion. She hadn’t had sugary foods or drinks, nor anything with artificial flavouring or colours as she had been in hosptial where all food is made from scratch

        • Blossom

          You were obviously looking around for something to do as you took 5 months to comment. I did not respond to the article above either. It was a different one.
          The child also snatched a meat tenderiser that her Mum was using to make schnitzels and hit her arm so hard that it swelled up. She had a chipped bone which resulted in surgery to remove the fragments.

        • Kenric L. Ashe

          It’s important for people to be aware of risks. Pretty much everything on this planet, no matter how healthy, is a risk for usually a very small percentage of the population with allergic reactions and so on. It’s equally important to not over-represent a small sampling of anecdotal evidence which makes it sound like you have a bias, particularly when important details are left out of your original comment. For the vast majority of humans the benefits of phytocannabinoids far outweigh the risks. As for witnessing the behavior of two people who smoked Cannabis, yes it can affect people in different ways but it’s also dose dependent. One small toke isn’t going to have anywhere near the effects of a massive bong hit. I agree with what you’re saying if I’m reading between the lines correctly inasmuch as it should not be abused. I also agree that smoking is the less healthy method of consumption compared to edibles. And furthermore, as I detailed above, raw non-psychoactive Cannabis as food is now the healthiest option of all for prevention of disease instead of treating it after it’s already too late.

        • Alika Terrain

          Chocolate has phenylethylamine in it, which curiously they don’t mention in this article and is probably more responsible for its pleasurable effects that its minute amounts of cannabinoids, you’d have to eat over 20 pounds of chocolate to get high…phenylethylamine on the other hand produces a response similar to speed, in fact it is the backbone of various pharmaceuticals like adderol…so that is probably what is getting your kid acting up, that and theobromine which is not caffiene exactly but structurally similar…

  • Kenric L. Ashe

    I wouldn’t say we’re victims of the healthy nutrients in chocolate any more than we’re “victims” of the healthy nutrients of, say, spinach. In fact there is growing evidence since 2004 that phytocannabinoids are age-related conditionally essential nutrients and that a vast array of “diseases” are actually the result of endocannabinoid deficiency. This is particularly true for newborn babies who get their cannabinoids from their mothers’ breast milk and older people whose bodies apparently no longer produce enough endocannabinoids which results in brain inflammation and illnesses that resemble auto-immune responses. Many if not most of these neurodegenerative illnesses (Alzheimer’s), some cancers, migraines, fibromyalgia, cystic fibrosis, and many more that are treated by psychoactive smoked or cooked Cannabis could actually be *prevented* by raw non-psychoactive Cannabis for 600mg doses of CBD instead of only 10mg and it doesn’t get you high. It actually should be treated as a vegetable — juiced or in salads etc — that’s part of a healthy balanced diet every day.

    • Samuel Ciraulo

      Very true I believe. CBD and many other Cannabinoids even THC have beneficial effects and work in unison with our endocannabinoids (AG-2 and Anandamide). Endocannabinoid deficiency would definitely cause inflammation and other mental problems, It is probably why I have a few mental problems.

      I smoked high grade Cannabis which was a huge mistake for my brain chemistry since i am Bipolar and Asperges, I am not trying to get a hold of strains that have less than 2% THC and more than 20% CBD to regulate mental functions and bodily health along with a good diet.