Functional Chocolate

It's in a November 1996 edition of the prestigious journal Nature. According to scientists in San Diego, chocolate may be able to simulate some of the effects of marijuana on the brain. Researchers have wondered for a long time what it might be in chocolate which generates such craving and the pleasant feeling of having it satisfied. Is it the fat in chocolate? The sugar, the caffeine, or what?

Well this study looked at other substances altogether and found that there may be some similarities to marijuana. But before you light up a Mars Bar, Dr Daniele Piomelli of the Neuroscience Institute, where the work was done, wants to make one thing very clear.

Daniele Piomelli: Chocolate does not contain substances similar to those in marijuana; chocolate contains instead substances that are similar to our own marijuana, so to speak; our own marijuana is called anandamide. Anandamide is a naturally-occurring substance produced by brain cells that mimic the mental effects of cannabis.

Norman Swan: So this anandamide influences in a lock and key sense, the receptors that in fact are the same receptors in the brain, the same locks, into which marijuana fits.

Daniele Piomelli: Exactly. Anandamide binds and activates the same receptors that are activated by the active principle of marijuana which is, as you know, tetrahydrocannabinol.

Norman Swan: So we didn't evolve to be able to smoke marijuana, we evolved to have these receptors for another reason, it's just that by serendipity cannabis has that effect on this lock and key mechanism.

Daniele Piomelli: Exactly.

Norman Swan: So you found that chocolate influences this innate cannabinoid?

Daniele Piomelli: Yes it does so in two different ways: chocolate contains some anandamide which may reach the brain. However, what I think is most interesting, is that chocolate contains also two additional compounds, but compounds that do not interfere directly with the cannabis receptors. Instead these compounds prevent the degradation of anandamide.

Norman Swan: In other words, you've got more keys fitting into the lock as a result of --

Daniele Piomelli: Exactly. This is precisely the point. Which also explains for what different chocolate is so different from cannabis. Of course when you smoke cannabis and you reach a certain level of tetrahydrocannabinol in your blood, all your cannabinal receptors are going to be activated, no matter what, everywhere in your brain. Instead, by eating chocolate, first of all you have of course a much lower level of active substances, but also it's most important, the substances may only enhance the effects of the anandamide that is produced endogenously in a way the anandamide that our brain meant to produce. This enhancement is only likely to happen in specific areas of the brain, not all over the brain. I think that's an important difference that explains why nobody experiences chocolate highs.

Norman Swan: Was it all forms of chocolate, or just plain chocolate, milk chocolate?

Daniele Piomelli: We only had samples of dark chocolate, not milk chocolate. As a control for that, we used white chocolate which contains cacao butter and milk and sugar, but does not contain cacao powder. Another control we carried out was with brewed coffee, espresso coffee, and of course brewed coffee has many things in common with chocolate that of course it's pleasant, it's something people like and is something that contains caffeine, which is biologically active, it produces that stimulating effect that the coffee drinker usually pursues.

Norman Swan: If you're right, and chocolate does this to this innate form of cannabis, why would it create a craving if it's a more natural effect?

Daniele Piomelli: Well craving is a natural thing. This is not the type of craving that one experiences say, with cocaine addiction of course. This is a much milder form of craving, and that's probably a reason why it's so poorly understood because it doesn't strike as much as classical drug cravings. It is called the non-drug craving. How could you explain? Well it is difficult to say at this point: the hard data in our experiments only show that chocolate contains these compounds and that these compounds in cells in culture produce the inhibition of anandamide degradation I was mentioning to you before.

Now it will be important to carry out further studies in vivo as they say in pharmacology, which basically means either injecting or administering these compounds to laboratory animals and determining whether they produce the same effect as andanamides.

Norman Swan: That's going to be fascinating to see if there's a gender difference, given that chocoholism seems to be more in the purview of females than males.

Daniele Piomelli: Right. There is also another interesting point you are raising in this gender difference: of course you are aware of a disease called bulimia. Bulimia is a very widespread disease particularly in young women, and is characterized by food binges that show a preference for high fat and high sugar containing foods typically chocolate, ice-cream and things of this nature, which might be linked to the cannabinoid system. What I'm trying to say is that there is a whole area of research on these non-drug cravings which links unlikely things, such as chocolate and bulimia to the endogenous cannabinoid system and although this link is still very weak, it is definitely worth pursuing.

Norman Swan: I knew it couldn't all be fun.

Dr Daniele Piomelli is at the Neuroscience Institute in San Diego, California.
REFERENCE: Tomaso E et al. NATURE 1996; 382:677-678.

Be my - From Truffles to toe rings, Net offers the way to her heart

- Philadelphia Daily News Thursday, Feb. 10, 2000

Be My
By Gail Appleson
Philadelphia Daily News
February 10, 2000

NEW YORK - Need advice on something usual for your Valentine this year?
The Internet will give your imagination a workout, with ideas for everything from chocolate that elevates sexual desire to heart-shaped dog biscuits.

Click on and you can order what is being touted as a new trademarked candy called ìfunctional chocolate.Love Truffles made by Hawaiian Vintage Chocolate claim to raise the aphrodisiac qualities found in regular chocolate to ìnew heights. The company says the chocolates, which sell for $19.95 a box, are infused with ìessence of cacao, the substance found in chocolate that triggers feelings of love, happiness and sexualityî and are the first such confections blended to increase sexual desire.Hawaiian Vintage Chocolate says Love Truffles get their special quality from a higher concentration of ìneurotransmitter boosters and exotic-sounding natural aphrodisiacs such as Damiana, Quebracho, Suma and Ashwaganda. And of course there is also American ginseng, which the company calls ìthe most effective of all the natural love enhancers. Chocolate's aphrodisiac qualities have made it the gift of lovers for centuries and through the breeding process we were able to improve on this secret and we hope they will bring out the Casanova in all of us, said Jim Walsh, chief executive officer and founder of the Honolulu-based company.

And what if your Valentine doesnít care for chocolate?

There's, a personalized audio greeting site that lets you create a full-length musical compact disc for your sweetie. The music is digitally mastered and senders can select and edit lyrics for a custom-created song. The introductory price of $7.95 includes a personalized label and special CD packaging and orders can be delivered within three business days.

If the way to your Valentine's heart is through his or her pet - or if your Valentine is your pet - has launched a Valentine's Day Boutique that offers such products as hand-knitted red sweaters and heart-shaped dog biscuits. The company, working with, also has ìheartfeltî Pet Personals, Valentine's Day postcards, daily pet horoscopes and ìtouching articles from hopelessly romantic pet owners.

If you are a guy who is clueless about what to get the woman in your life,, an on-line retailer, not only makes suggestions for unique gifts but rates how popular the items will be with different personality types. The site makes recommendations based on your desired mood and budget and gives advice for top-10 romantic videos, top-10 seduction dates, Valentineís Day marriage proposals and even homemade love coupons in which you promise to perform a variety of services for your sweetie.

Calvin Lui, the 28-year-old chief executive of the San Francisco-based company, said the suggestions were based on focus groups and surveys of hundreds of women who were asked about gifts they would like to receive. He said the most popular ideas with women across the board included one-day spa gift certificates and bed-and-breakfast getaways.

The biggest message we learned was just how bad we [men] are at choosing gifts, he said. Guys don't necessarily think of these things. The site lets you choose from the following personalities: artistic intellectual, athlete-adventurer, career professional, crunchy-earthy, girl next door, princess and trendy wild. Click on one and a list of gift suggestions will appear. For example, suggestions under crunchy-earthy include a toe ring, an aromatherapy relaxation kit and flannel pajamas.Since many women fall into several categories, Lui said, the site also allows a user to check how well a particular gift would do with other personality groups.

Take the toe ring, for example. Click on it and a graph appears rating the risk involved in giving one to other types of women. While a toe ring would be a sure thing for a crunchy-earthy woman, it would be only a good bet for the artistic intellectual and risky for the athlete-adventurer, career professional or girl next door. As for the princess, the graph says forget it. If you're trying to please a princess, orchids would be a sure thing, but they would be only a ìtoss-up for a crunchy or artistic intellectual.

The site has buying information on a range of conventional and unconventional gifts including black pearls, laser tag, original artwork, hammocks and even books of erotica and feather ticklers. There's a fine line between sleaze and sensuality, the site says, but if you stay on the right side of it, you, my friend, can be a very lucky man.

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