Chocolate, Cannabinoids, and the Brain

By Rory Decker


“If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad.” -Sheryl Crow


Is chocolate good for you? As a chocoholic myself, I would like to think so. There is a myriad of aspects to chocolate’s impact on our bodies that make this debatable, such as physical impacts on our bodies from sugar and fat content, to content of antioxidants, and even to consumption levels. For as long as I can remember, there has been talk about potential benefits of eating dark chocolate due to antioxidants and how it is good for brain health, but what about chocolate in relation to mental health and mood? Chocolate makes people feel good, and as long as consumption is done in moderation, it can be a good de-stressor. Another thing to consider would be cannabinoid (CBD) products because whether it is oil or gummies, people everywhere are saying that it helps relieve their stress. Chocolate and CBD might be a great de-stress pair, but what if I told you cannabinoids might already be in chocolate?


Some studies have found that there is a lipid, a fat molecule, that binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain (di Tomaso, Beltramo, & Piomelli, 1996). This is not necessarily a cannabinoid, but a cannabinoid-like chemical (Di Marzo, Sepe, De Petrocellis, Berger, Crozier, Fride, & Mechoulam, 1998). Cannabinoid drugs tend to cause a euphoric feeling (di Tomaso, Beltramo, & Piomelli, 1996). Cannabinoids are also found in marijuana, and they are not the chemical that produces a “high” sensation. Cannabinoids are found in other foods such as milk, but maybe there is a special relationship between the brain and the combination of cannabinoids and chocolate that can help people de-stress and boost their mood.


These studies suggested that the cannabinoid mimics in chocolate can be linked to the craving of chocolate (Di Marzo, Sepe, De Petrocellis, Berger, Crozier, Fride, & Mechoulam, 1998; di Tomaso, Beltramo, & Piomelli, 1996), and this is specifically through the increased sensitivity of senses (di Tomaso, Beltramo, & Piomelli, 1996). This could be craving of the feel-good sensation from a combination of cannabinoid mimics, as well as other components in chocolate. Caffeine is also found in chocolate, which can make people feel good (di Tomaso, Beltramo, & Piomelli, 1996), and could also lead to repeated eating behavior. This may also cause the cravings for the well-being feeling. Although, in a more recent study, it was found that chocolate’s feel-good effects are not long-lasting (Parker, Parker, & Brotchie, 2006). Even though it is not long-lasting, it is evident that through peoples’ repeated eating behavior it is a powerful sensation that people tend to crave.


There are so many ways that the “goodness” level of chocolate can be debated, and this understanding of how chemicals in chocolate interact with the brain can sway the debate, depending on how someone feels about cannabinoids. These studies only scratch the surface of one of the many chemicals in chocolate, and what it does to the body. It is time we stop talking about chocolate only in terms of levels of antioxidants and begin to understand all of its interactions with the brain. As long as moderation is used for consumption to avoid health problems, there is not anything to be scared of in terms of how chocolate interacts with the brain. People can be both anti-cannabinoid and anti-chocolate due to varying opinions on their impact on health, but overall, I think Sheryl Crow got it right when she said, “If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad.”


References:


Di Marzo, V., Sepe, N., De Petrocellis, L., Berger, A., Crozier, G., Fride, E., & Mechoulam, R. (1998). Trick or treat from food endocannabinoids? Nature, 396(6712), 636. https://doi.org/10.1038/25267


di Tomaso, E., Beltramo, M., & Piomelli, D. (1996). Brain cannabinoids in chocolate. Nature, 382(6593), 677–678. https://doi.org/10.1038/382677a0


Parker, G., Parker, I., & Brotchie, H. (2006). Mood state effects of chocolate. Journal of Affective Disorders, 92(2), 149–159. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2006.02.007

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