Mutant Gene May Prevent Anxiety, Drug Addiction

By Paul Gaita 03/16/15

Research shows that a sizable part of the population has built-in resistance to anxiety and addiction.

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Research into neuroscience has uncovered a genetic mutation in the human brain that produces a molecule that not only reduces anxiety and nullifies unpleasant memories, but may also offer a natural resistance to addiction to marijuana and other drugs.

About 20% of American adults have this mutation, which produces higher levels of anandamide, the so-called “bliss molecule,” which binds to the endocannabinoid system and replicates the calming effects associated with THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

While all humans produce levels of anandamide, most also produce a lower amount of FAAH, an enzyme that deactivates the molecule. Those individuals who produce greater levels of anandamide also have a mutation in the gene that produces FAAH, resulting in more consistent activation of the endocannabinoid system.

Where anandamide—which derives its name from “ananda,” the Sanskrit word for bliss—and addiction intersect is the cannabinoid system, which also oversees the release of dopamine. Those individuals with the variant FAAH gene experience less anxiety and are less likely to turn to external stimuli to reduce that feeling, including marijuana.

Studies have even suggested that ingesting marijuana is an unpleasant experience for these people and leads to decreased happiness. A medication that would reproduce the impact of anandamide in connection with the variant FAAH gene could have a positive impact on a variety of conditions, from anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder to addiction to substances that are directly impacted by dopamine production, including cocaine, opioids, and alcohol.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.