Chronic inflammation: omega-3s act like cannabis

According to a surprising recent biochemical study, the anti-inflammatory effect of omega-3s is due to their transformation into molecules similar to those found in cannabis: cannabinoids and to the activation of pain receptors specific to these molecules. .

Cannabis is a well-known plant that has been used as a high for at least 4,000 years and today remains the most popular illicit drug in the world, with no less than 185 million regular users. The psychoactive effects of cannabis are largely due to D9 – tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main cannabinoid produced by the plant. By interacting with certain receptors present in the brain, THC modifies the release of neurotransmitters and at the same time alters several mental processes (emotions, sensory perception, memory, appetite), characteristics of the effects obtained following the consumption of cannabis.

The brain produces its own pain and anti-stress molecules

The cannabinoid receptors in our brain are not only activated by the THC of cannabis: the human body produces endogenous substances which have structures similar to cannabinoids (endocannabinoids) and which can also influence several mental processes. For example, it was recently shown that runner’s euphoria, that is to say the feeling of well-being that accompanies physical activity, is due to the anxiolytic and analgesic effects of an endocannabinoid substance called anandamide. No wonder exercise improves mood!

Omega-3s, cannabis: the same receptors stimulated

A new class of endocannabinoids has just been discovered by a team from the University of Illinois. Researchers have made the surprising discovery that docosahexaenoic (DHA) and eicosapentanoic (EPA), two long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish, can be changed by a series of complex biochemical reactions into endocannabinoids. This transformation seems to play a key role in the well-documented anti-inflammatory properties of these omega-3s, since the endocannabinoids produced from these molecules interact specifically with the cannabinoid receptor CB2, known for its involvement in the pain-relieving effect of these molecules. Studies show that the activation of these receptors by cannabis can significantly reduce inflammation and certain chronic pains, and it is for this reason that the medical use of cannabis is increasingly considered a valid alternative. in the treatment of certain disorders such as neuropathic pain or inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and ulcerative colitis. By activating these same receptors, omega-3 endocannabinoids could therefore in some way mimic this phenomenon, which would contribute to their anti-inflammatory properties. Without the mind-altering effects of resin or cannabis leaf, however!

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Anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3s

These observations illustrate to what extent the nature of the fats in our diet can greatly influence the development of inflammation, an important risk factor for all of the chronic diseases currently affecting our society (cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, several types of cancer). The modern diet contains far more pro-inflammatory omega-6s than omega-3s and this imbalance contributes to creating an inflammatory climate inside our body. Increasing the intake of omega-3 fatty acids can restore this balance and prevent the creation of a climate of chronic inflammation in our tissues. Fatty fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel) are the main source of long-chain omega-3s and eating one to two servings of these fish per week is the easiest way to get there. This is all the more important since, in addition to their anti-inflammatory properties, these omega-3s exert several additional beneficial effects on the body, particularly in the transmission of nerve impulses and in the prevention of episodes of arrhythmias. cardiac, often responsible for embolisms and sudden death. Research in biochemistry is always full of amazing surprises.


Fuss J et al. A runner’s high depends on cannabinoid receptors in mice. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 2015; 112:13105-8.

McDougle DR et al. Anti-inflammatory omega-3 endocannabinoid epoxides. proc. Natl Acad. Science. USA, published online July 7, 2017.


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