What Do Marijuana and Hot Peppers Have in Common?

May 1, 2017

Spicy food and pot brownies sounds like a bad combo — I’m not judging — but a new study suggests they at least have one thing in common: they both calm the gut. According to a new study, hot peppers and marijuana contain chemicals that interact with the same receptors that line the stomach. The findings suggest that both foods could have a therapeutic effect against diabetes and colitis. Moreover, the relationship between the immune system, gut, and the brain seems richer than ever.

You can’t taste with your stomach, but the same biochemical receptors found in the mouth that trigger that “hot! hot!” response when you taste a hot pepper are present throughout the gastrointenstinal tract. Specifically, capsaicin — the chemical that gives peppers their heat — binds to a receptor called TRPV1. The interaction produces a chemical called anandamide which is an endogenous cannabinoid — lipids that engage cannabinoid receptors. The chemicals found in marijuana engage the same receptors, it’s just that the endogenous variety is produced by our own bodies.

When researchers from the University of Connecticut fed lab mice with capsaicin, the rodents had less inflammation in their guts. That’s because anandamide binds to another receptor in the digestive tract that stimulates the production of macrophage, a type of white blood cell that lowers immune response and therefore limits inflammation. But the real surprising find was that they actually cured mice with Type 1 diabetes just by essentially feeding them chili pepper.  The same gut-calming results were observed by feeding the mice anandamide directly, as reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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