Chocolate and Cannabis Share Something Special

By David Jenison

Chocolate and Cannabis Share Something Special

In 1996, a study published in the clinical journal Nature found that chocolate contains three fatty acid compounds that bind directly to cannabinoid receptors or indirectly act on them through increased anandamide levels (by inhibiting the FAAH enzyme). The endocannabinoid anandamide, which is commonly called “natural tetrahydrocannabinol” (or THC), is “a brain lipid that binds to cannabinoid receptors with high affinity and mimics the psychoactive effects of plant-derived cannabinoid drugs.” This suggests that certain chocolate compounds act on the same receptors as cannabis does. Though some researchers today question whether the compounds actually do bind to the receptors directly, the majority agree that chocolate does increase anandamide levels, thus affecting them indirectly. 

This helps explain the high that certain people feel when consuming chocolate, though a “chocoholic” would have to eat several pounds to experience a high equivalent to smoking cannabis.

Researcher Dr. Mauricio Sanchez Menchero presented a paper at the 2013 International Congress on the History ofScience Technology and Medicine that suggested the “abuse” of chocolate in 17th century Mexico led some to condemn it. For centuries, people enjoyed dark chocolate for both recreational and medicinal reasons, and nuns in particular consumed a lot of it in the New World. When new laws significantly reduced the availability of chocolate, the nuns reportedly experienced “hysteria.” Many doctors at the time concluded that chocolate played a major role in the “disease of hysteria” and other societal ills, and some clergy even forbade drinking chocolate.

Eating chocolate, interestingly enough, is not the only common experience associated with the cannabinoid system. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2015 found that increased levels of oxytocin—a.k.a. “the love hormone” that enhances the bond between lovers—prompts the release of anandamide, which then acts on the cannabinoid receptors. This means the cannabinoid system also plays a role in the “love experience.”

Love, chocolate and THC might differ in the exact effects they produce, but they all act on the same receptors in the body and contribute to euphoric sensations. And since Saturday happens to be World Chocolate Day, it's the ideal time to enjoy them all. 

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