Anxiety, Anandamide and the Infamous FAAH

As we discussed in a previous article, the root cause of anxiety and depression can stem from more than one simple source.  Yes, neurotransmitter and chemical imbalances are extremely prevalent, but the pharmaceutical approach of manipulating them isn’t offering success to a huge number of people … and they often come with a list of harsh and terrifying side effects.

Let me be clear, if you have chosen a medication to manage your symptoms, I am not saying you have done anything wrong!  My hope is to offer a different perspective and hopefully someday allow you to have the freedom from the pharmaceuticals. 

What we are discovering is there is a growing number of people that are getting their anxiety and depression under control through lifestyle changes and natural means.  One area that is showing exceptional promise involves a key enzyme of your endocannabinoid system called FAAH (or fatty acid amide hydrolase). 

While I am a huge proponent of “mind over matter” and do believe in the power of our conscious mind overcoming difficult situations, I cannot deny that genetics do play a key part in life, too.  Especially when it comes to anxiety.

I came across a story of this Scottish woman in her 60’s ( who took spotlight after she explained to her surgeon that she didn’t feel pain and didn’t require pain medications following surgery.  She also reported that she didn’t experience worry and anxiety like many others.  She became a case study of a geneticist who ended up finding that she had mutations (or polymorphisms) of two specific genes that are linked to a key enzyme of our ECS …

FAAH-OUT was the nickname assigned because of its effects on the FAAH enzyme. 

FAAH is something that is really captivating the area of anxiety and for good reason …

Anandamide is broken down by the FAAH (fatty acid amide hydrolase) enzyme.  High levels of FAAH typically indicate low levels of that divine joy molecule, anandamide.  And as you can guess …

Low levels of FAAH typically result in higher levels of anandamide.  So if FAAH levels are low or suppressed, anandamide levels can climb.

This Scottish woman’s SNPs caused her body to produce virtually no FAAH enzymes … leaving her with heightened levels of anandamide.  And this was the explanation of her “happy mood” and her inability to feel pain (because our endocannabinoids also influence pain and inflammation, too!)  On the downside … she has reported problems with her memory which can be associated with extremely high levels of anandamide. 

So let’s be real … while it may be of interest to reduce pain and inflammation naturally in the same round that mood can be improved, we don’t necessarily want to drive your levels to extremes that cause other problems!

More Genetic Associations with FAAH and Anxiety

Scientists have also discovered that an estimated 20% of adults have ONE genetic variation (rather than the Scottish woman’s double SNP) that impairs their FAAH enzyme resulting in those elevated levels of anandamide and are generally less anxious in comparison to the rest of the population. 

One study ( compared a group of genetically happy humans with mice that had been injected with the same gene variation.  Both the mice and “the men” had higher levels of anandamide and a greater ability to release fear-based memories.  Brain imaging showed heightened levels of connectivity between areas of the brain that are associated with lower anxiety levels and increased emotional stability … the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala.

Wouldn’t you know it …it appears that this “bliss molecule”, anandamide, really is linked to feelings of wellbeing and happiness and a lack of it could result in feeling depressed or anxious! 

Now we can’t really change your genetic blueprint, it more or less is what it is. 

But I promise there is still hope!

What we can change is how we fuel and care for our endocannabinoid system.  Through more conscious choices, healthy lifestyle habits and supportive supplementation, we can show our hard-working ECS more appreciation. 

I definitely don’t want it to seem like our only option is a pill, potion or lotion … there are a lot of factors we can influence and the field of epigenetics is scientific proof that our daily choices have a strong impact on our future health.  For a more expansive list of ways that you can support your ECS, check out this article.