Brain activity of anandamide: a rewarding bliss?

Acta Pharmacol Sin. 2019 Mar;40(3):309-323. doi: 10.1038/s41401-018-0075-x. Epub 2018 Jul 26.


Anandamide is a lipid mediator that acts as an endogenous ligand of CB1 receptors. These receptors are also the primary molecular target responsible for the pharmacological effects of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the psychoactive ingredient in Cannabis sativa. Several studies demonstrate that anandamide exerts an overall modulatory effect on the brain reward circuitry. Several reports suggest its involvement in the addiction-producing actions of other abused drugs, and it can also act as a behavioral reinforcer in animal models of drug abuse. Importantly, all these effects of anandamide appear to be potentiated by pharmacological inhibition of its metabolic degradation. Enhanced brain levels of anandamide after treatment with inhibitors of fatty acid amide hydrolase, the main enzyme responsible for its degradation, seem to affect the rewarding and reinforcing actions of many drugs of abuse. In this review, we will provide an overview from a preclinical perspective of the current state of knowledge regarding the behavioral pharmacology of anandamide, with a particular emphasis on its motivational/reinforcing properties. We will also discuss how modulation of anandamide levels through inhibition of enzymatic metabolic pathways could provide a basis for developing new pharmaco-therapeutic tools for the treatment of substance use disorders.

Keywords: 2-AG; FAAH; alcohol; anandamide; brain reward; cannabinoid receptor; cocaine; drug addiction; drug use disorder; endocannabinoids; morphine; nicotine.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amidohydrolases / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Animals
  • Arachidonic Acids / physiology*
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Drug-Seeking Behavior / drug effects
  • Endocannabinoids / physiology*
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Polyunsaturated Alkamides
  • Self Administration


  • Arachidonic Acids
  • Endocannabinoids
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Polyunsaturated Alkamides
  • Amidohydrolases
  • fatty-acid amide hydrolase
  • anandamide