Dr. Michelle Weiner
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This Gene Mutation Causes Some People to Feel Naturally High

From Vice.com

Anandamide is named for the Sanskrit word for bliss.

Who needs weed when you're naturally high? As it happens, some people are genetically predisposed to feel good.

About 20 percent of Americans have a genetic mutation responsible for allowing them to feel less anxious than everyone else. (Today on Election Day, the rest of us are all pretty jealous.) Not only may this happy handful of people appear to always be somewhat calm, relaxed, or easy going, but they also have the ability to forget negative memories more easily than other people.

Those with this happy gene mutation have higher levels of anandamide, known as the "bliss" molecule, an endocannabinoid that occurs naturally in the body. The chemical is literally named after the Sanskrit word ananda, which means "joy, bliss, or happiness".

Anandamide is essentially the body's own version of the chemicals found in cannabis, which also can make people happy. If you have the gene mutation, your body produces less of an enzyme called FAAH, which is supposed to break down anandamide. Hence, the FAAH mutation causes people to have more anandamide. For everyone else, anandamide breaks down pretty easily, which is why most people aren't always blissed out.

The chemical is literally named after the Sanskrit word ananda, which means "joy, bliss, or happiness".

The bliss chemical not only makes people feel happy, but also is critical to pain, appetite, movement control, fertility, and memory. Anandamide increases neurogenesis, or the formation of new cells, which helps in decreasing anxiolytic and depressive properties in the brain. It's also vital to memory extinction, so people with the mutation are less likely to develop PTSD because anandamide can help them forget painful memories more easily.

Different ethnicities are more prone to this gene mutation than others. It's most common among Yoruban Nigerians, among whom 45 percent have the mutation. Meanwhile, a little more than 20 percent of Americans and Europeans have it, and only 14 percent of China's Han population.

The downside of the mutation, however, may be that while most everyone else (who smokes weed) can enjoy the effects of cannabis, those with the natural high are less likely to experience happiness or positive from cannabis, itself. If someone with the FAAH mutation, however, does use cannabis regularly, they're less likely to experience emotional withdrawal when they stop using it than do other people without the mutation. Of course, as Dr. Richard Friedman pointed out, it's easier to stop smoking cannabis or abstain from it when you're already naturally a little high.

If you don't naturally have the FAAH gene mutation, there are a few tricks to increasing your levels of anandamide. You could eat chocolate, known to contain the cacao alkaloid theobromine, upping the brain's anandamide levels, exercise, and get into "flow state," a concentrated zone, during which the body and brain perform optimally (usually professional hula hoopers or other dance artists get into this state).


Michelle Weiner