You know when people say, “Oh my god, this food item is like crack!” and they just mean, “I’m having a hard time not eating this because it’s so good!”?
Everyone understands that these things are not like actual crack. No one thinks that you are saying that breadsticks, or cheese puffs, or Maltesers have the same effect on your mind and body as the neutralized form of cocaine hydrochloride.
True Story: I once had an exam where I was given the chemical structure of cocaine and the chemical structure of crack and asked which reagents I would use to get from cocaine to crack, and I almost didn't answer it correctly because it seemed like a trap.
So when someone says, “These Oreos are like crack!” my usual response is, “Yeah, I do really like eating them.”
Because “Oreos are as addictive as cocaine” is a really ridiculous thing to print. I've never done cocaine so I don’t have any first person anecdotal information to back up my theory, but I do know some people who have done cocaine. Let’s hear what they have to say about the matter:
Anonymous said: “I like Oreos. I LOVE(D) cocaine.”
Jane said: “I've done cocaine and it's way more addictive than Oreos.”
Emily may be on to a really great conspiracy: “I was addicted to cocaine and many AA meetings provide Oreos. Coincidence?”
Probably not, Emily. Probably not.
Another anonymous person made a good point: “I've never texted everyone in my address book at 1 a.m. to get Oreos.”
Mandy: "Oreos have never inspired me to respond to a personal ad on Craigslist that then led to me staying up all night and until 11 the next morning eating Oreos."
And one more anonymous human said: "Yeah, I don't think Oreos would have made me blow $7,000 in six months and completely ruin my mind like coke did."
But anecdotal information is not scientific information, so let’s talk about this study, as reported by The Christian Science Monitor (which does a pretty good job of not sensationalizing the whole thing).
The methodology was this:
The researchers -– a team of four undergrads led by Conn College neuroscience professor Joseph Schroeder -– placed rats in a maze with Oreo cookies on one side and rice cakes on the other, measuring the amount of time the rats spent on each side.
You can probably guess what the outcome of this was. But thanks science for proving that rats like Oreos more that rice cakes. Good use of grant money.
Schroeder conducted a similar experiment, except that instead of tempting the rats with Oreos and rice cakes, he did so with injections of cocaine or morphine on one side, and saline injections on the other. It turns out that the rats spent as much time on the Oreo side of the maze in the Oreo experiments as they did on the drug side of the maze in the drug experiments.
All that this shows is that when presented with something boring (saline and rice cakes) and something awesome (cocaine and Oreos) rats will choose the more awesome thing. It shows that rats prefer Oreos over rice cakes as much as they prefer cocaine over saline, BUT WHAT IT DOES NOT SHOW is that Oreos are as addictive as cocaine.
I don’t actually think that the researchers are claiming that Oreos are as addictive as cocaine; I think media outlets are claiming that they are claiming that.
"Our research supports the theory that high-fat/high-sugar foods stimulate the brain in the same way that drugs do," Schroeder said. "It may explain why some people can't resist these foods despite the fact that they know they are bad for them."
Sure, OK. Sugar, fat, and cocaine all activate the brains pleasure centers. But so does looking at porn, and so do video games. Apparently when they measured the rats’ brain activity they found that more neurons were activated by Oreos than cocaine or morphine. All that indicates to me is that there is more involved with drug addiction than the activation of pleasure centers.
Schroeder is taking the results to heart though. “I haven't touched an Oreo since doing this experiment,” Schroeder says.
Cool story, bro.
If headlines were to truly reflect the findings of this study, they would read “Study Finds Sugar and Fat Activate the Pleasure Centers of The Brain in a Way That is Similar to Cocaine And Also Rats Like The Cream Filling Part of Oreos The Best,” not “Guess What, Ladies? Oreos Are Just As Addictive As Cocaine So Don’t Feel Bad about Eating Five at A Time.”
I've never "chased the high" with Oreos. Each time I eat an Oreo, it produces the same amount of pleasure it produced before. I don't have to increase the number of Oreos I eat each time to enjoy eating Oreos.
I'm not saying that sugar and fat aren't addictive. Food companies are constantly striving to make addictive food. A lot of research and money goes into this. Nacho Cheese Doritos are ingeniously engineered to keep you coming back for more, but they won't ruin your life the way drugs such as cocaine will. And what is the end game of studies like this? More mothering legislation like the New York soda ban?
The reality of the situation is that this is an undergraduate research project at a liberal arts college. The story has been picked up by everyone and their editor because it allows one to print "Oreos" and "cocaine" in the same headline, and that's fun.
But studies like this are nothing new. Entire books have been written on the subject. Rats have been exhibiting addict-like behavior towards "fun food" for a couple of years now. But humans aren't rats and we have a lot more to choose from besides cocaine, Oreos, and rice cakes. It's all very interesting, but it's overly simplistic and silly to present eating Oreos as something that is on par with cocaine addiction based on research done by four undergraduate students.
There is nothing groundbreaking here, except for the fact that the rats eat the cream filling first.