Ding dong merrily! Why choirs get you high
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.’