The Mail on Sunday

Ding dong mer­rily! Why choirs get you high

- By Roger Dob­son Health · Lifestyle · Healthy Living · Phillips Exeter Academy · King's College London · London · American Economic Association · Nottingham

EVER won­dered why carol-singers seem so joy­ful? Re­searchers have found the an­swer: com­mu­nal singing pro­duces a cannabis-like high.

Sci­en­tists found that lev­els of the nat­u­ral brain com­pound anan­damide – dubbed the ‘bliss mol­e­cule’ – soared in women tak­ing part in choir singing.

Blood lev­els of anan­damide, or AEA, went up by more than 40 per cent among the singers, prompt­ing the re­searchers to claim that singing could help those with de­pres­sion.

‘Singing was the only ac­tiv­ity to in­crease lev­els and im­prove mood, sug­gest­ing that singing was able to pro­duce an en­doge­nous “high”,’ say the re­searchers from Not­ting­ham Uni­ver­sity.

‘We have shown for the first time that singing sig­nif­i­cantly in­creases lev­els of AEA and other com­pounds in healthy women and en­hances mood. This pre­lim­i­nary ev­i­dence sug­gests that ac­tiv­i­ties like singing could be rec­om­mended to peo­ple suf­fer­ing from mood dis­or­ders such as anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion.’

Re­searchers said the phe­nom­e­non of a ‘run­ner’s high’, a feel­ing of eu­pho­ria brought on by ex­er­cise, was linked to in­creased lev­els of nat­u­ral com­pounds called en­do­cannabi­noids which are in­volved in ap­petite and mood.

In the new study, pub­lished in the jour­nal Fron­tiers In Be­havioural Neu­ro­science, re­searchers looked for the first time at whether other ac­tiv­i­ties can in­crease lev­els of these com­pounds.

Women vol­un­teers had lev­els mea­sured be­fore and af­ter 30 min­utes of danc­ing, read­ing, singing or cy­cling. Nine women aged 55 to 67 were re­cruited from a lo­cal choir as peo­ple who en­joyed sing- ing and ex­er­cise. The re­sults re­veal that singing in­creased lev­els of three en­do­cannabi­noid com­pounds. AEA went up by 42 per cent, palmi­toylethano­lamine (PEA) by 53 per cent and oleoyletha­nolamine (OEA), by 34 per cent. It also im­proved pos­i­tive mood and emo­tions.

Danc­ing had no ef­fect on lev­els, but did re­duce neg­a­tive mood and emo­tions. Cy­cling in­creased OEA lev­els by 26 per cent, but did not af­fect mood.

Read­ing in­creased OEA lev­els by 28 per cent and also made peo­ple hun­gry. The sci­en­tists re­port that anan­damide – named af­ter the San­skrit word for ‘bliss’ – has a markedly sim­i­lar struc­ture to that of tetrahy­dro­cannabi­nol or THC, the ac­tive con­stituent of cannabis.

Com­ment­ing on the re­search, Joseph Fort, direc­tor of the Chapel Choir, King’s Col­lege Lon­don, said: ‘Cho­ral singers have long sensed some­thing along these lines – that they come out of a re­hearsal feel­ing en­er­gised, happy, buoy­ant.’

He added: ‘ In an era when we have to jus­tify mu­sic’s pres­ence i n ed­u­ca­tional cur­ric­ula, t his re­search en­ables us to show that the ben­e­fits of singing ex­tend far be­yond the act of singing it­self.’

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