What Goes On In There?

As outlined in the previous post, anandamide (AEA) makes us happy, but for four-fifths of people, FAAH steps up and says, “But just hold on there… Not too happy.” What other substances and processes can influence our moods and cravings?

The types of food that people eat, and how much of it, depends mainly on two types of appetite. Homeostatic is the healthy kind, triggered by a decrease of available energy, where the body is legit saying, “Hey, send some calories, or else.” A 2013 paper on fatty acid modulation and the endocannabinoid system by authors from three institutions in Melbourne, Australia, adds that, conversely, “hedonic food intake is triggered by appetite in response to endogenous and exogenous stimuli and often occurs in satiated or postprandial states.” In other words, even when they have just finished a meal and are stuffed, a disordered person will keep shoveling it in.

As it turns out, the endocannabinoid system “is implicated in both homeostatic and hedonic food intakes, with activation of the system resulting in an increase in hunger.” AEA and another molecule, 2-AG, bind to the two main cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2)…

[…] leading to activation of pathways to initiate food intake in the limbic system, hypothalamus and hindbrain.

What brings on the inappropriate and harmful hunger? Quite often, it is stress, which as we have seen, some people are genetically wired to cope with, although most are not. Dr. Pretlow has written,

Understanding and targeting the behavioral and psychological precursors to compulsive eating behaviors is essential as a means of facilitating control over food intake to mitigate obesity. Stress is a precursor that is common both to compulsive eating behavior and alcohol/drug use.

In 2015, Dr. Richard A. Friedman made waves with an article called “The Feel-Good Gene,” in which he discussed “intriguing new therapeutic targets for drug abuse in general.” He referred to tinkering with the cannabinoid circuit, which “directly influences the dopamine reward pathway, which is the shared target of commonly abused drugs, like cocaine, opiates and alcohol.”

And food. As the Australian research on fatty acid modulation and the endocannabinoid system had found,

Endocannabinoids are products of dietary fatty acids (FA) and… modulation of cannabinoid receptor function can occur via modification of dietary FA intake.

A 2018 paper added,

Obesity is associated with chronic low-grade inflammation and metabolic disturbances, including insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. One of the major drivers of the obesity epidemic is the consumption of an energy-dense high-fat diet…

Interest in the endocannabinoid system as a target for obesity therapy has re-emerged since rodent studies demonstrated that obesity-associated changes in the gut microbiota activated the intestinal endocannabinoid system…

Now, back to Dr. Pretlow, who writes that displacement behavior is an innate, biobehavioral mechanism in the brains of all animals, which…

[…] functions as a response to situations that the animal cannot readily face, yet cannot avoid — situations involving uncertainty, confusion, conflict, or a feeling of being trapped, threatened, or frustrated.

Resembling addiction, displacement behavior is irrepressible behavior that is contextually inappropriate, […] e.g., an animal that sleeps or feeds when threatened by a predator, or an individual who drinks to intoxication or binge eats after encountering a stressor in the workplace.

Displacement behavior bears a striking resemblance to addictive behavior.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Fatty Acid Modulation of the Endocannabinoid System and the Effect on Food Intake and Metabolism,” Hindawi.com 05/26/13
Source: “The Feel-Good Gene,” Archive.ph, 03/06/15
Source: “Plasma endocannabinoid levels in lean, overweight, and obese humans: relationships to intestinal permeability markers, inflammation, and incretin secretion,” Physiology.org, 02/13/18
Image by Donald Lee Pardue/CC BY 2.0

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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