Professor Simon Luckman and Dr Garron Dodd believe the peptide hemopressin, which affects the reward part of the brain responsible for hedonistic behaviour, might treat some aspects of alcohol and drug abuse.
Dr Dodd, co-author of the findings published in the Journal of Neuroscience, explains: “It has long been known that the rewarding aspects of feeding behaviour influence our appetite, so that sometimes we eat for pleasure rather than hunger. This is because the cannabinoid system in the brain - a component of the naturally-existing circuitry responsible for reward - is affected by chemicals that are termed ‘agonists’ which bind to its receptors and increase the reward from feeding.
“One such agonist is cannabis - it hijacks the cannabinoid system and leads to what is colloquially referred to as ‘the munchies’. Similarly, when you fast, the brain causes an increase in naturally-occurring agonists. This results in increased hedonic impact so that when you do eat, food tastes better.