Blood levels of the endocannabinoid anandamide are increased in anorexia nervosa and in binge-eating disorder, but not in bulimia nervosa

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2005 Jun;30(6):1216-21. doi: 10.1038/sj.npp.1300695.


The endocannabinoid system, consisting of two cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2) and the endogenous ligands anandamide (arachidonoylethanolamide (AEA)) and 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG), has been shown to control food intake in both animals and humans, modulating either rewarding or quantitative aspects of the eating behavior. Moreover, hypothalamic endocannabinoids seem to be part of neural circuitry involved in the modulating effects of leptin on energy homeostasis. Therefore, alterations of the endocannabinoid system could be involved in the pathophysiology of eating disorders, where a deranged leptin signalling has been also reported. In order to verify this hypothesis, we measured plasma levels of AEA, 2-AG, and leptin in 15 women with anorexia nervosa (AN), 12 women with bulimia nervosa (BN), 11 women with binge-eating disorder (BED), and 15 healthy women. Plasma levels of AEA resulted significantly enhanced in both anorexic and BED women, but not in bulimic patients. No significant change occurred in the plasma levels of 2-AG in all the patients' groups. Moreover, circulating AEA levels were significantly and inversely correlated with plasma leptin concentrations in both healthy controls and anorexic women. These findings show for the first time a derangement in the production of the endogenous cannabinoid AEA in drug-free symptomatic women with AN or with BED. Although the pathophysiological significance of this alteration awaits further studies to be clarified, it suggests a possible involvement of AEA in the mediation of the rewarding aspects of the aberrant eating behaviors occurring in AN and BED.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anorexia / blood*
  • Anorexia / psychology
  • Arachidonic Acids / blood*
  • Bulimia / blood*
  • Bulimia / psychology
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leptin / blood
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Polyunsaturated Alkamides
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales


  • Arachidonic Acids
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Leptin
  • Polyunsaturated Alkamides
  • anandamide