Junk Food High

What's more addictive than cocaine? Keep your kids out of the cookie aisle

What's more addictive than cocaine? Stay out of the cookie aisle

lab rat with Oreo cookies and cocaine
In a scientific study, researched determined that Oreos are just as addictive as cocaine.  Photo by Bob MacDonnell of Connecticut College/TransAlchemy

So I can work longer. So I can earn more. So I can eat more Oreos? That's not how the classic '90s anti-drug spot goes.

Nor have musicians sang "She's your Oreo" or "I love the Oreos." Dave Chappelle never performed a famous sketch with the signature line "Oreos are a helluva drug."

But maybe he should have.

New research by Connecticut College professor Joseph Schroeder and his students shows that America's most popular cookie is highly addictive. According to an article on the college's website, the study "found rats formed an equally strong association between the pleasurable effects of eating Oreos and a specific environment as they did between cocaine or morphine and a specific environment."

 More neurons in the brain's pleasure sensor are activated while eating Oreos than while using cocaine.

The research proves what many people intuitively know: Junk food is highly addictive, and people eat it even when they know it's bad for them. 

To test the theory, Schroeder and his students constructed two mazes. In one, rats had the choice between eating an Oreo and eating a rice cake. In another, rats could choose a side where they would be injected with cocaine or a side where they would be injected with saline.

Rats spent as much time on the Oreo side as they did on the cocaine side. Rice cakes aren't very interesting, but who knew Oreos could be so appealing?

Even more disturbing, the students used neurochemistry to demonstrate that more neurons in the brain's pleasure sensor are activated while eating Oreos than while using cocaine.

"Our research supports the theory that high-fat/high-sugar foods stimulate the brain in the same way that drugs do," Schroeder said in the article. "It may explain why some people can’t resist these foods despite the fact that they know they are bad for them."

It's worth noting that the data has yet to be published or submitted for peer review. And a scientist friend of CultureMap cautions that using studies with this methodology to say one thing is "more addictive" than another is tricky.

Still, maybe err on the side of caution and stay out of the cookie aisle while the scientists sort it out.

To answer the obvious question: Yes, the rats ate the middle first.