For many herb-lovers, it can be surprising to hear someone say that they don’t enjoy cannabis. Between the physical relaxation and the happiness boost, what’s not to love? Well, as it turns out, some people are genetically predisposed to bliss. In an editorial for the New York Times, Dr. Richard A. Friedman explains the bliss gene phenomena. Here’s why some people are naturally high all the time.
The bliss gene
Do you know someone who always seems naturally relaxed? Someone never too riled up, an all around laidback and easygoing person?
As luck would have it, these special people may have won the genetic lottery. About 20% of Americans have a genetic mutation that makes them less anxious than others.
The same mutation also enables them to more easily forget negative memories.
Interestingly, different ethnicities are more likely than others to express this variation. The editorial explains that 21% of Americans and Europeans are naturally less anxious. A whopping 45% of Yoruban Nigerians have this gene mutation. Of those living in China, only 14% of the Han population have inherited this blissful advantage.
How does it work?
How the gene works is fascinating. People with the mutation have more of the body’s bliss molecule, anandamide. Anandamide is the human version of psychoactive THC, an active component in cannabis.
While the rest of the population has an abundance of enzymes that break down anandamide, those with this genetic variant produce less of these enzymes.Fewer of specialized enzymes means that more anandamide can circulate in the brain.
Anandamide has been named the “bliss molecule” for a reason. It is an uplifting and calming neurotransmitter. It also triggers the release of hunger hormones, helps you fall asleep, and helps you let go of haunting memories.
So, those who carry this mutation are naturally less anxious and a little more blissed-out than everyone else. Since Anandamide plays a major role in memory extinction (that’s right, it’s a compound that makes you forget), it’s possible that these people are less likely to develop PTSD and have other fear-processing advantages to boot.
The bliss gene and cannabis
People have turned to cannabis as a mood enhancer for centuries. THC connects with the same binding locations for anandamide in the brain.
So, people with this enzyme variant have a different experience with the herb. For these few, cannabis may actually make them less happy after consumption.
According to Dr. Friedman, who is a professor of clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, these individuals may simply have less need for cannabis. Yet, if these gene-winners do partake, they are less likely to experience withdrawal.
Anandamide certainly doesn’t provide a “high” like THC. However, the compound does improve mood and promote a sense of calmness and ease. Individuals without the variation are more likely to experience anxiety. They are also less likely to recover from fear, and more likely to turn to cannabis for stress relief.
80% of Americans and Europeans have lost the genetic lottery on the bliss molecule front. While some people may have received the feel-good genes from their parents, for the rest of the lot, there’s cannabis.
For that, let’s be thankful.