Anandamide, also known as N-arachidonoylethanolamine (AEA), is a fatty acid neurotransmitter derived from the non-oxidative metabolism of eicosatetraenoic acid (arachidonic acid), an essential omega-6 fatty acid. The name is taken from the Sanskrit word ananda, which means "joy, bliss, delight", and amide.[1][2] It is synthesized from N-arachidonoyl phosphatidylethanolamine by multiple pathways.[3] It is degraded primarily by the fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) enzyme, which converts anandamide into ethanolamine and arachidonic acid. As such, inhibitors of FAAH lead to elevated anandamide levels and are being pursued for therapeutic use.[4][5]

IUPAC name
Other names
CAS Number
3D model (JSmol)
MeSH Anandamide
PubChem CID
Chemical formula
Molar mass 347.53 g/mol
Except where otherwise noted, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C [77 °F], 100 kPa).
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Infobox references

Physiological functions

Anandamide was first described (and named) in 1992 by Raphael Mechoulam and his lab members W. A. Devane and Lumír Hanuš.[1]

Anandamide's effects can occur in either the central or peripheral nervous system. These distinct effects are mediated primarily by CB1 cannabinoid receptors in the central nervous system, and CB2 cannabinoid receptors in the periphery.[6] The latter are mainly involved in functions of the immune system. Cannabinoid receptors were originally discovered as being sensitive to Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol9-THC, commonly called THC), which is the primary psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis. The discovery of anandamide came from research into CB1 and CB2, as it was inevitable that a naturally occurring (endogenous) chemical would be found to affect these receptors.

Anandamide has been shown to impair working memory in rats.[7] Studies are under way to explore what role anandamide plays in human behavior, such as eating and sleep patterns, and pain relief.

Anandamide is also important for implantation of the early stage embryo in its blastocyst form into the uterus. Therefore, cannabinoids such as Δ9-THC might influence processes during the earliest stages of human pregnancy.[8] Peak plasma anandamide occurs at ovulation and positively correlates with peak estradiol and gonadotrophin levels, suggesting that these may be involved in the regulation of anandamide levels.[9] Subsequently, anandamide has been proposed as a biomarker of infertility, but so far lacks any predictive values in order to be used clinically.[10]

Anandamide plays a role in the regulation of feeding behavior, and the neural generation of motivation and pleasure. Anandamide injected directly into the forebrain reward-related brain structure nucleus accumbens enhances the pleasurable responses of rats to a rewarding sucrose taste, and enhances food intake as well.[6][11] Moreover, the acute beneficial effects of exercise (termed as runner's high) seem to be mediated by anandamide in mice.[12] Anandamide is the precursor of a class of physiologically active substances, the prostamides.[13] Anandamide inhibits human breast cancer cell proliferation.[14]

Anandamide is found in chocolate together with two substances that might mimic the effects of anandamide, N-oleoylethanolamine and N-linoleoylethanolamine.[15]

Additionally, anandamide and other endocannabinoids are found in the model organism Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly), although no CB receptors have been found in any insects.[16][17]

Synthesis and degradation

In humans, anandamide is biosynthesized from N-arachidonoyl phosphatidylethanolamine (NAPE). In turn NAPE arises by transfer of arachidonic acid from lecithin to the free amine of cephalin through an N-acyltransferase enzyme.[18][19] Anandamide synthesis from NAPE occurs via multiple pathways and includes enzymes such as phospholipase A2, phospholipase C and N-acetylphosphatidylethanolamine-hydrolysing phospholipase D (NAPE-PLD).[3]

The crystal structure of NAPE-PLD in complex with phosphatidylethanolamine and deoxycholate shows how the cannabinoid anandamide is generated from membrane N-acylphosphatidylethanolamines (NAPEs), and reveals that bile acids – which are mainly involved in the adsorption of lipids in the small intestine – modulate its biogenesis.[20]

Endogenous anandamide is present at very low levels and has a very short half-life due to the action of the enzyme fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH), which breaks it down into free arachidonic acid and ethanolamine. Studies of piglets show that dietary levels of arachidonic acid and other essential fatty acids affect the levels of anandamide and other endocannabinoids in the brain.[21] High fat diet feeding in mice increases levels of anandamide in the liver and increases lipogenesis.[22] This suggests that anandamide may play a role in the development of obesity, at least in rodents.

Paracetamol (called acetaminophen in the US and Canada) is metabolically combined with arachidonic acid by FAAH to form AM404.[23] This metabolite of paracetamol is a potent agonist at the TRPV1 vanilloid receptor, a weak agonist at both CB1 and CB2 receptors, and an inhibitor of anandamide reuptake. As a result, anandamide levels in the body and brain are elevated. In this fashion, paracetamol acts as a pro-drug for a cannabimimetic metabolite. This action may be partially or fully responsible for the analgesic effects of paracetamol.[24][25]

Endocannabinoid transporters for anandamide and 2-arachidonoylglycerol include the heat shock proteins (Hsp70s) and fatty acid binding proteins (FABPs).[26][27]

It is found that anandamide prefer cholesterol and ceramide more than other membrane lipids, and cholesterol can behave as a binding partner for it, and following an initial interaction mediated by the establishment of a hydrogen bond, the endocannabinoid is attracted towards the membrane interior, where it forms a molecular complex with cholesterol after a functional conformation adaptation to the apolar membrane milieu, and from there, the complex is further directed to the cannabinoid receptor (CB1) and out.[28]


Black pepper contains the alkaloid guineesine, which is an anandamide reuptake inhibitor. It may therefore increase anandamide's physiological effects.[29]

Low dose intake of anandamide has an anxiolytic effect, but high dose intake in mice shows evident hippocampus death.[30]

A Scottish woman with a rare genetic mutation in her FAAH gene with resultant elevated anandamide levels was reported to be immune to anxiety, unable to experience fear and insensitive to pain. The frequent burns and cuts she suffered due to her hypoalgesia healed quicker than average.[31][32][33]

See also

  • Virodhamine


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