Oreos more addictive than cocaine, study finds

A new study from Connecticut College suggests that Oreos might be more addictive than cocaine or morphine.

In the study, Professor Joseph Schroeder and his students studied the brains and behaviors of lab rats while being presented with, and eating, an Oreo.

On one side of a maze they’d give a rat an Oreo, on the other side they’d give a rice cake.  Then they’d see which the rats would choose if they started at the beginning of the maze.  What they found was that, no surprise here, the rats preferred to eat an Oreo over a healthy rice cake.

What was surprising – and I’m not kidding – the rats preferred to open the Oreos and eat the middle first, then eat the cookie outside. Seriously.

Oreo via Shutterstock.

Oreo via Shutterstock.

This just reminded me of my visit to the Russian Far East in 1993, to the city of Kamchatka, which, at the time, was still not a terribly “open” city.  Back in the day, it was customary to bring western delicacies to the Soviet Union, and then Russia – be they Marlboros or blue jeans – usually for trading on the black market, since they simply didn’t have such things in what was a somewhat less-advanced economy.  I brought Oreos.  My friend Marian Hagler (who is super-fluent in Russian) and I went to a local school and introduced the kids to America’s favorite cookie.  Marian translated while I taught the kids to open the cookie first, and then use their front teeth to scrape off the white creamy filling.

I considered it my personal blow for capitalist excess.

Russian students in Kamchatka in 1993 try their first Oreo, dutifully opening the cookie before eating the white filling first. ©John Aravosis

Russian students in Kamchatka in 1993 try their first Oreo, dutifully opening the cookie before eating the white filling first. ©John Aravosis

The next part was particularly interesting. They compared the Oreo vs. rice cake attraction to rats that were given the option of an injection of cocaine or morphine, versus an injection of saline.  What they found was that “the rats conditioned with Oreos spent as much time on the ‘drug’ side of the maze as the rats conditioned with cocaine or morphine.”

Granted, that may simply suggest that Oreos are tastier than rice cakes to the same degree that cocaine is more enjoyable than a saline injection.  What would have been interesting would have been comparing the drugs directly to the Oreos, then seeing which the rats chose – in order to appreciate just how strong the attraction was to Oreos vs. drugs.

What they did do, however, was still pretty enlightening.  They looked at the actual brains of rats that enjoyed Oreos, specifically at the pleasure center of the brain.  And found that Oreos activated “significantly more” neurons in the pleasure center than did cocaine or morphine.  In other words, Oreos might be even more addictive – or at least more pleasurable – than coke or morphine.

I’ve always suspected that some foods are potentially addictive.  Personally, I’m a huge fans of sweets, particularly chocolate and flour-y sweets, like cookies and brownies (and I know how to cook, which makes it an added danger).  Some weeks I’ll have a cookie or brownie every evening (I’ve found that frozen chocolate chip cookie dough works quite well in a toaster oven, permitting me to have 3 fresh cookies late a night whenever I want).  What I find is that in the evenings after dinner, I start craving the cookies or brownies if I haven’t already had some that day.  It’s in much the same same way that I crave my morning coffee the evening before.

All this talk of addictive food reminds me of the study last year that suggested that cheese, too, is potentially addictive:

The primary protein in milk is casein. When the human body digests casein, it produces casomorphins, which have an opiate-like effect on humans. Because cheese is denser than, for example, milk, the casein is more heavily concentrated, meaning that eating cheese produces a larger amount of casomorphins in the body compared to eating other dairy products.

Cheese-related research going as far back as the ‘80s has also confirmed that cheesecontains small amounts of morphine. Scientists postulate that cows produce morphine in their milk because it helps calm their calves, making sure the young cows bond with their mothers and come back for more (does this make cows the dairy farm equivalent of drug dealers?).

Obviously the Oreo study would need a lot more parameters to it.  For example, I’d be curious what exactly in an Oreo triggers the pleasure center of the brain – is it the sugar, or the fat, and what particular role, if any, might high-fructose corn syrup play (versus other types of sweetener)?  And what about brownies, or chocolate chip cookies?  Would they, or other comfort foods trigger a similar response in rats?  How about Mac & Cheese?

And is this at all related to the non-stop-eating problem one has when eating potato chips, or popcorn?  I don’t even particularly like popcorn, but if someone buys it at a theater, I can’t stop eating it.

The study potential is endless.  And yummy.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown (1989); and worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, and as a stringer for the Economist. Frequent TV pundit: O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline & Reliable Sources. Bio, .

Share This Post

  • http://www.lululemonoutlet-canada.tk/ Lululemon

    This Improvised Explosive Device (IED), according to the prosecution, had a delay time between 8.5 minutes to a maximum of 194 days.
    Lululemon http://www.lululemonoutlet-canada.tk/

  • Julie

    i cant believe

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Especially the florescent ones!

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Oh please, ever hear of snark?

  • Physics Police

    First of all, this is not a peer-reviewed, published study. The researchers looked at something called “conditioned place preference”. This is not the same thing as addiction, which is characterized by specific cognitive, emotional, and behavioral changes. http://www.asam.org/for-the-public/definition-of-addiction

    Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes food can be addictive. But this study did NOT directly compare Oreos to drugs. It compared Oreos to rice crackers, and drug injections to a saline control. The team never compared Oreos plus saline control to drugs plus rice crackers!

    So, any conclusion about their relative addictive potential is invalid. The outcome would not change replacing Oreos with chocolate chip cookies, or cheese. http://thephysicspolice.blogspot.com/2013/10/rats-oreos-and-drugs.html

    This is dishonest reporting, and should be retracted.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    With a tiny, weenie, teensy pestle.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Wrong

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Never heard of hand rolled—-been around for 4 centuries or more….bug.

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    Oh, cool, thanks.

  • sallyedelstein

    Warning to parents: Lock up the oreos! Are we turning America’s youth into hard core addicts? http://wp.me/p2qifI-1K0

  • Moderator3

    Monoceros Forth fits nobody’s definition of a troll.

  • Bugboy

    Troll, I didn’t screw up anything. In your cave in which you live or bridge you live under, you apparently don’t see the sugar cane fields stretching to the horizon that I see first hand in South Florida. That didn’t happen until the industrial revolution allowed mechanized automated sugar refining. Same with tobacco in the form of cigarettes. Tobacco was a luxury for the rich until the cigarette rolling machine made it cheap enough for the masses.

  • Mike_in_the_Tundra

    I’ve been diabetic since I was eleven, and I actually need some sugar. It’s been decades now that I’ve been doing a balancing act between insulin, exercise, and carbohydrates (that’s why I test my blood often).

    I have tried some candy made with sugar alcohols, and it was okay. One can only eat small amounts of that, so I just skip it. I must agree that fruit seems a better idea.

  • KC Jenner

    Alcohol is considered to be the universal solvent: It even can dissolve Man!

  • K_L_Carten

    My husband is diabetic, and sugar alcohols don’t raise the blood sugar as high fructose or sugar does, it raises it but not as high and at a shorter period of time. Not saying that it’s good for you or that it don’t make a person fat, but for those that has a sweet tooth and really shouldn’t eat sweets, using sugar subs as an occasional treat isn’t as harmful as eating sugar. For a diabetic eating sugar it is like taking a swig of drano. But as far as sugar alcohols being as bad or worse as sugar or high fructose corn syrup, I haven’t seen or read anything to say it is. I rather eat something natural over something made in a lab any day. That is why we have fruit instead of candy and other sweets in the house. After a while, you don’t really miss the stuff, but then I really don’t have a sweet tooth.

  • crazymonkeylady

    Even more addictive than Heisenberg Blue?

  • crazymonkeylady

    Silly! You have to grind them up before snorting!

  • Jeff

    I don’t know, I never emptied my bank account on an Oreo binge.

  • pappyvet

    But John ! What about peeps?!

  • http://adgitadiaries.com/ karmanot

    I’m trying to imagine a nostril big enough to snort an Oreo and just can’t go there.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Which is why I avoid ‘diet’ anything like the plague. And try as much as possible both to (1) stick to real sugar products and (2) pay attention to how much sugar (and sodium and saturated fats) are in what I eat.

    One of the really interesting things I noticed after drinking sugar-only Coca-Cola: If I drink one, that’s all I want. If I drink a HFCS-sweetened Coke, when I finish it, I’m still thirsty and there’s this taste in my mouth that makes me want to drink more.

    Fortunately, I have no desire for diet drinks — there is not a single one of them that doesn’t taste awful to me. None.

  • Nathanael

    Sugar alcohols are actually worse than high-fructose corn syrup. They have the same problems as saccharine and Nutrasweet. Because they fail to digest, they mess up your brain and make you fat.

    (FWIW, to me sugar alcohols taste like, uh, ethanol. They taste *disgusting*. Perhaps not everyone has the alcohol-tasting gene or something.)

  • Nathanael

    It’s been documented in studies that “diet” sodas make people fatter.

    Sacharrine, Nutrasweet, and all those other fake indigestible sugars really mess up your brain and make you eat far far more than actual sugar does. High fructose corn syrup is eventually satiating; Nutrasweet and sacharrine are *never* satiating.

  • Nathanael

    Alcohol seems to be quite addictive to some people (alcoholics) but not to most people. The problem with alcohol is that people who are high on alcohol behave *exceptionally* badly.

    People who are high on nicotine or heroin or other opiates or pot usually behave in only a mildly annoying fashion. People who are high on alcohol tend to be violent and anti-social.

  • Nathanael

    Cocaine is not very addictive, however. In fact, it has a very low physical addictiveness rating according to most studies, and a relatively low psychological addictiveness rating.

    The most addictive known drug is heroin. The second most addicitve is nicotine (tobacco). Cocaine is *way* down the list.

    Sugar and cocaine are mildly addictive, but nothing like tobacco or heroin.

  • Outspoken1

    Warning – the Halloween Oreo’s with the orange filling just don’t taste the same as the traditional ones with the white filling… er, so I heard [grin]

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    And Oreo filling over heroin.

  • Monoceros Forth

    Oh, dear, a tendentious analogy already. Because the heavy-duty cultivation of Saccharum species going back at least as far as the 15th century is exactly analogous to the small-scale collection of fish eggs.

    It’s OK to admit you screwed up. I’ve even done it myself. Go on. You’ll get such a sense of release.

  • arcadesproject

    Well, yeah. That’s the way I always did it. Ate the white part first, then the chocolate cookie part. So maybe we’re related.

  • Bugboy

    I guess you don’t know what the term “mass marketed” means. Russian caviar is a “product of commerce” too, but its lack of availability due to limited fisheries keeps it from being “mass marketed”.

  • http://www.americablog.com/ Naja pallida

    Having the job of specifically keeping record all the ridiculousness that goes on in the House would be enough to drive even the most sane person completely bonkers.

  • Monoceros Forth

    Oh, come on, let’s be rational about this. Concentrated sources of sugar have been a product of commerce since the beginning of recorded history; the need for a standardized product of known quality with good shipping and keeping qualities was always there and the demand for cane sugar in Europe existed long before tobacco was even known.

  • Bugboy

    Much like the availability of tobacco in the form of cigarettes, which was the result of mechanized tobacco manufacture, sugar was not widely available until the technology arose to allow its refining to be mechanized. Both addictive products had to be made by hand and was as a result too expensive to be mass marketed.

    While the Surgeon General has been lobbied to require “addiction” be accompanied by consumption by an “illicit substance” (which conveniently excludes nicotine), from a biological perspective anything, even visual stimulus, that the genome is ill-equipped from an evolutionary standpoint to deal with can be considered addictive. This is why porn can be considered addictive: the brain has had only a few hundred years to comprehend the concept of graphical images, so our “lizard brain” that rules our libido doesn’t know the difference between images and the real thing.

    This reluctance to deal with addiction has been and still is largely driven by the tobacco industry, and Big Food is now learning their tricks. No one will buy their product if it doesn’t make the consumer want to eat more, which is what one company CEO admitted publicly. That is the definition of a pusher.

  • SkippyFlipjack

    Looking forward to the Nabisco ad claiming that 4 out of 5 rats preferred Oreos to rice cakes.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Actually I believe the word is the ‘sugar free’ is the problem. You mouth tastes sweet. Your brain thinks, “Yay! Sugar! Carbs!”

    Only what you’re eating has none. So then your brain thinks, “Hmm… I didn’t get the energy jolt I was expecting. I guess I’d better eat more sugary and fatty foods. Crank up the ‘I’M HUNGRY!” feelings.”

    Over time, one becomes habituated to the notion that sugary taste means you have to eat a lot of it to acquire the calories your body expects and needs.

    I’ve wondered for years if the real problem is how we here in America have attempted to de-link the useful information that can be provided through taste (“This tastes fatty/sugary. Great! That means I don’t need too much to feel full and get the energy I expect from it.”) and the actual nutritional value and calorie content of what it is we’re eating.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Well, according to these two people I know, Jesse and Jane, you take the Oreo, mash it up, making sure to include some of the white sugary stuff, then you mix it with a little water in a spoon, heat it with a lighter, then draw it off through a wad of cotton batting into a syringe…

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Somehow though, the thought of serving as a clerk or underling in Congress driving one crazy seems far less surprising than I would’ve imagined. Especially during the last few weeks.

  • http://heimaey.us/ heimaey

    I have heard this before. We eat more because we’re not getting nutrients from the ton of food we’re eating.

  • Monoceros Forth

    Ah, that makes sense. I’m reminded of the word “toothsome” which simply means “appetizing”.

  • perljammer

    Heh. I know you’re just kidding, but the phrase seems to have originated in the late 14th century. In this context, “tooth” refers to appetite and not dentition.

  • Monoceros Forth

    Certain artificial sweeteners, even if they have no nutritive value, appear to stimulate the secretion of insulin anyway, so you’ll still get the “sugar crash” and increased appetite. From what little I found on a cursory web search, acesulfame potassium is one of these and aspartame isn’t.

  • Drew2u

    I can’t think of any other explanation as to why sugar-free jello’s sweeteners make my sugar-craving act up while other substances do not.
    Edit: I found the packaging, sweeteners are aspartame/nutrisweet and acesulfame potassium. I don’t think aspartame in other products give me that craving, but aspartame+diet fruit sodas = MIGRANE.

  • Monoceros Forth

    The sugar-free variety I have I think may have sugar alcohols as a substitute, which I can imagine has that same reaction in the body as HFCS.

    Eh? Why would you imagine that? All of the commonly used sugar alcohols are much more difficultly taken up by the body than glucose or fructose, a property reflected in their low glycemic indices. At least two of the sugar alcohols, glycerol and mannitol, are absorbed and metabolized so poorly in the body that they can float around in the bloodstream practically unchanged (thereby increasing the osmolarity of the blood, which leads to the use of these substances as “osmotic diuretics”.)

  • nicho

    Apparently, someone needs an Oreo.

    House stenographer dragged off floor screaming about Freemasons and Jesus.

    http://gawker.com/house-stenographer-dragged-off-floor-yelling-about-free-1446830813

    The insanity is probably contagious.

  • Buford2k11

    wow…the white stuff in the middle is hard to roll up and a bitch to keep lit…

  • Hue-Man

    CBC TV “Fifth Estate” (=60 Minutes investigative reporting) did a full program on sugar earlier this month, comparing it to the tobacco industry of earlier generations. One thing I hadn’t realized was that nutrition labels show sugar content by weight but not as a percentage of recommended daily amounts – because there is NO standard. http://www.cbc.ca/player/Shows/ID/2410472474/

    Sugars, especially fructose, are added to feed our addiction but masked in chemical-sounding names that blend in with all the other packaging and stabilizing chemicals that appear on the label. It’s all this hidden sugar that’s the problem, not the occasional Oreo cookie where the sugar high is immediate.

  • nicho

    Alcohol isn’t a problem. Alcohol is a solution.

  • Indigo

    I prefer to call it a “joke study.”

  • Indigo

    I hear breathing is also addictive.

  • Drew2u

    Long in the tooth, thick in the belly!

  • BillFromDover

    Why do we call it a sweet tooth when the whole body swells?

  • BillFromDover

    So… how do I get an Oreo into a hypo?

  • Drew2u

    I avoid HFCS (or “corn sugar” on new packaging) like the plague. The sugar-free variety I have I think may have sugar alcohols as a substitute, which I can imagine has that same reaction in the body as HFCS.
    My home-made peanut butter cups I make with coconut oil, so it’s full-fat and I get full with one!

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    My bro in law thinks high fructose corn syrup plays a role in that it’s not satisfying, it doesn’t satiate you. So you want more and more. I also suspect that something about American fatty foods don’t satiate you. In France, everything is high fat, or at least full fat, and you eat a small portion of something and you’re full.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Alcohol is a problem.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Yeah, it seemed rather clear that it was a lite study. Fun though.

  • http://heimaey.us/ heimaey

    So it’s more addictive than pot, less addictive than heroin, but probably just as addictive as alcohol. Maybe less so? Alcohol is the most dangerous drug.

  • beandog9

    I guess nobody saw this: http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/no-oreos-arent-as-addictive-as-cocaine. Apparently this was a study by students and has not been peer reviewed.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    WebMD disagrees:

    Cocaine: Psychological Effects and Addiction

    Cocaine acts in the deep areas of the brain. These are the areas that reward us for “good behavior” — those activities that lead to food, sex, and healthy pleasure. Stimulating this brain area with cocaine feels good. And it can create a powerful craving to use more cocaine. Repeated cocaine use leads to tolerance (that is, increasingly higher doses are needed to attain the same effect), dependence, and addiction.

    There is no “safe” frequency of use for cocaine. It’s impossible to predict whether a person will become physically or psychologically dependent on cocaine.

    After using cocaine regularly for an extended period, dependence (addiction) develops. When dependence is present, stopping cocaine suddenly leads to withdrawal. Symptoms of withdrawal from cocaine are more psychological than physiological. Typically, cocaine withdrawal symptoms include:

    depression and anxiety

    fatigue

    difficulty concentrating

    inability to feel pleasure

    increased craving for cocaine

    physical symptoms including aches, pains, tremors, and chills

    Cocaine withdrawal is rarely medically serious. In certain people, withdrawal from cocaine may cause suicidal thoughts. Typically, withdrawal symptoms from cocaine addiction resolve within one to two weeks. However, intense craving for cocaine may return, even years after the last use.

  • Monoceros Forth

    So obviously a confection made of Oreo filling sandwiched between two Cheez-Its would be dynamite.

  • Bill Yohpe

    cocaine is not addictive and niether is tasty food unless you totally warp the meaning of addiction to ‘people do it because it feel good’.

  • Drew2u

    On that note, I find sugar-free jello to do the same thing to me. After eating some, I get an extremely strong sweet tooth and I keep looking for something to curb it. I make home-made peanut butter cups and those don’t do the same thing; I can have one and I’m good for the night. Give me that jello and I turn into a raving sugar-holic. It’s odd.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    LOL

  • Drew2u

    We act surprised that a chemically produced consumable derived in a lab by people who have a vested interest in consumers purchasing more of their product has the same properties as a chemically produced consumable derived in a lab by people who have a vested interest in consumers purchasing more of their product.

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