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How Endocannabinoids Reward Us for Social Interaction

Science says that warm and fuzzy feelings in your body might be producing cannabinoids in your brain.

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The end of a year is traditionally a time of social gatherings in lieu of holidays and celebrations. These familiar groupings of friends and family often stir warm and joyous feelings, and now, new research suggests that they may also be stirring the production of cannabinoids.

A new study is showing a perhaps not-so-surprising link between oxytocin production in relation to social interaction and the production of anandamide – one of the body’s natural cannabinoids. The research found that during social interaction, oxytocin stimulates the release of anandamide, which is responsible for feelings of bliss and a natural high. Thus, social interaction is rewarded by the body through the increase in anandamide.

In order to further test this response, researchers from California measured the production of anandamide in both isolated and socialized mice. What they found was that as the mice socialized they were rewarded for these interactions by the increase in anandamide in their brains. In addition, when scientists stimulated the neurons in the brain associated with the production of oxytocin, they found anandamide levels increase, while blocking the anandamide’s effects also effectively blocked the positive oxytocin correlation with socialization.

In addition, when researchers prevented the degradation of anandamide, they found a noticeable boost in pleasure received from social interaction and an increase in time spent socializing.

The implications of these results suggest that the so-called “hug hormone” oxytocin and the “bliss molecule” anandamide work hand in hand to reward social interaction.

So this holiday season, if you find yourself lamenting that cannabis use won’t be accepted at your family gatherings, take heart in knowing that simply enjoying the social interaction with the people you love is enough to stimulate the release of anandamide and produce a blissful natural high. As for those who toke with their family? Well, consider the socially induced anandamide to be the cannabinoid icing on the cannabis cake.

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