Imagine living your whole life without ever experiencing pain. Imagine having a permanently cheerful disposition, and no anxiety and fear. This is life for a 66 year old Scottish woman.
The woman carries a previously unknown genetic mutation that gives her consistently high levels of endocannabinoids, which are a kind of neurotransmitter similar to THC, one of the psychoactive compounds in marijuana.
The endocannabinoid system is involved in a whole host of bodily processes including pain, mood, and memory. The persistently elevated levels of endocannabinoids in this woman’s blood lead her to feel no pain and to have a consistently bright and positive outlook on life. When originally discovered, anandamide, the particular endocannabinoid this woman carries extras of, was named after the Sanskrit word for bliss. Her lack of pain phenotype is so strong that she can eat Scotch Bonnet chili peppers and only reports a “pleasant glow in her mouth” and enjoys the feeling of pulling stinging nettles from the ground with her bare hands during gardening. Throughout her life has undergone numerous painful operations without ever needing pain relievers.
Although the ability to feel pain is crucial to protect us from harm, reports like these are of great value as they offer new targets for development of pain relievers. Targets such as the endocannabinoid system are particularly desirable as they have the potential to treat not only pain but also mood disorders such as anxiety which is often present in many chronic pain conditions.