Review Article

Brain activity of anandamide: a rewarding bliss?

Authors: Maria Scherma, Paolo Masia, Valentina Satta, Walter Fratta, Paola Fadda, Gianluigi Tanda
DOI: 10.1038/s41401-018-0075-x
Received: 26 January 2018
Accepted: 20 May 2018
Advance online: 26 July 2018


Anandamide is a lipid mediator that acts as an endogenous ligand of CB1 receptors. These receptors are also the primary molecular target responsible for the pharmacological effects of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in Cannabis sativa. Several studies demonstrate that anandamide exerts an overall modulatory effect on the brain reward circuitry. Several reports suggest its involvement in the addiction-producing actions of other abused drugs, and it can also act as a behavioral reinforcer in animal models of drug abuse. Importantly, all these effects of anandamide appear to be potentiated by pharmacological inhibition of its metabolic degradation. Enhanced brain levels of anandamide after treatment with inhibitors of fatty acid amide hydrolase, the main enzyme responsible for its degradation, seem to affect the rewarding and reinforcing actions of many drugs of abuse. In this review, we will provide an overview from a preclinical perspective of the current state of knowledge regarding the behavioral pharmacology of anandamide, with a particular emphasis on its motivational/reinforcing properties. We will also discuss how modulation of anandamide levels through inhibition of enzymatic metabolic pathways could provide a basis for developing new pharmaco-therapeutic tools for the treatment of substance use disorders.
Keywords: endocannabinoids; 2-AG; anandamide; cannabinoid receptor; brain reward; drug use disorder; drug addiction; FAAH; cocaine; morphine; nicotine; alcohol

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