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Oreos as 'addictive' as cocaine in lab rat study
October 16th, 2013
12:21 PM ET

Oreos as 'addictive' as cocaine in lab rat study

Anyone who's ever eaten an Oreo knows how difficult it can be to eat just one.

Scientists have long suspected that our brains crave junk food in the same way they crave other pleasurable substances, such as illegal drugs. Previous studies in rodents and in humans have shown the same area of the brain that lights up on scans when people use drugs, also shows increased activity when study participants consume, or even look at, high fat, high sugar foods like ice cream or bacon.

Some scientists believe certain foods trigger the brain to signal for more, similar to the way addictive drugs prompt cravings; if we don't fulfill the brain's request, the body could produce a physical response (like caffeine headaches) similar to withdrawal symptoms.

New research from undergraduate students at Connecticut College adds to the growing evidence suggesting that food can be addictive. The students were interested in understanding how the availability of junk food in low-income areas has contributed to America's obesity epidemic.

“Even though we associate significant health hazards in taking drugs like cocaine and morphine, high-fat, high-sugar foods may present even more of a danger because of their accessibility and affordability,” study designer and neuroscience major Jamie Honohan said in a statement.

The study

The student researchers used a maze with two sides to test their theory. On one side of the maze, they gave the rats Oreos; on the other side, the rats got rice cakes. The rats were then allowed to choose which side of the maze they wanted to explore.

The researchers recorded the amount of time the rats spent on each side. They then compared the times to a similar experiment where the rats were given an injection of cocaine or morphine on one side of the maze and a shot of saline on the other.

The researchers also analyzed the Oreos' effect on the rats' brains by looking at the number of neurons in the nucleus accumbens - the brain's "pleasure center" - that were activated while eating.

The results

The lab rats conditioned with cookies spent just as much time on the "drug" side of the maze as the rats conditioned with cocaine or morphine, the researchers say. "This, by itself, is not surprising or novel," Schroeder told CNN in an e-mail. But researchers also found that the rats eating Oreos experienced more pleasure than the animals being injected with drugs, as measured by activation changes in the nucleus accumbens.

"Taken together, these finding support the hypothesis that consumption of high fat/sugar foods can lead to addictive behaviors and can activate the brain in a similar manner as drugs of abuse," Schroeder said. "This may, in part, help us to understand why individuals who have trouble controlling their food intake, especially when food options are limited to high fat/sugar options, are more susceptible to obesity."

Caveats

These results have not been published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. And research in rats does not always translate to humans. It would be difficult to get approval to conduct the same experiment on humans as it would require giving illegal substances to study participants.

The results do also not show that the rats were addicted - in the traditional sense of the word - to the cookies; simply that the rats sought them out and found pleasure in eating them.

While Oreos were used in the study, the experiment was done to illustrate the effect any food high in sugar or fat could be having on your brain.

Takeaway

This study helps us understand why it's sometimes difficult to resist junk food even though we know it's bad for us, Schroeder said. It might be hard to give up your favorite cookies cold turkey, so follow the golden rule of nutrition:

Everything in moderation.

Your brain on food: Obesity, fasting and addiction


soundoff (1,403 Responses)
  1. RyanTexan

    All they proved is rodents like food more than cocaine.
    And that no one likes plain rice cakes.
    Did they let them have sex after they got the cocaine? Maybe that would raise the value for them.
    Seriously though – you are not addicted to oreos. You don't get withdrawal if you stop eating them. Give the rodents enough coke or morphine and they will stop eating altogether! Then see what they choose – oreo vs. drug.
    People – and I know this phrase will infuriate the liberals – show some personal responsibility. Yes, I like food that's bad for me. But not because I'm addicted. I just like it. I have complete control over whether I eat it. So do you. Otherwise I wouldn't be able to eat that in moderation. Compare to a drug addict. You can't put a pile of coke in front of a coke addict and expect them to consume it in moderation. You can put a pile of oreos in front of people and they won't eat them all if they don't want to.

    October 16, 2013 at 18:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lilly

      You aren't getting it, yes oreos don't have side effects like cocaine, they both access the same part of the brain, one just doesn't have side effects like the other.

      October 16, 2013 at 19:09 | Report abuse |
    • ejs

      actually liberals have no argument with your absolutely brilliant analysis and insight of RODENT Responsibility....

      October 16, 2013 at 19:13 | Report abuse |
    • Amy K.

      Look, I'm a liberal and I completely agree with you. From the article: "The results do also not show that the rats were addicted – in the traditional sense of the word – to the cookies; simply that the rats sought them out and found pleasure in eating them." I'm guessing some people either don't know how to properly read an article, or skipped high school biology.

      October 16, 2013 at 20:27 | Report abuse |
    • Daws

      Really? The liberals? Because we're so much more anti-drugs than right wingers? Maybe quit trying to insert divisive politics into everything, you conservatives seem more addicted to that than any drug I can think of....

      October 17, 2013 at 04:10 | Report abuse |
    • Z_nips

      "and I know this phrase will infuriate the liberals " - What does that even mean? I would consider myself fairly 'liberal', and I agree 100% that it's about personal responsibility.

      HEY WORLD... if you want to come across as having a brain, try not lumping every possible combination of human thoughts, feelings, emotions, fears and desires into one of two political parties. It f***ing blows my mind how so many can subscribe to such a primitive way of human-sorting.

      October 17, 2013 at 08:10 | Report abuse |
    • BaltoPaul

      All this study proves is that rats like Oreos more than they like rice cakes.

      I wonder how much this cost to figure out?

      October 17, 2013 at 14:12 | Report abuse |
    • DCBuck

      Nannyism is not just limited to one side of the political spectrum. Just ask the CEO of Scotts Co., who feels it's OK to control what his employees do when they are not at work, or any of the Talibangelicals, like Bachmann, Hucksterbee, Santorum, et.al.

      October 17, 2013 at 15:05 | Report abuse |
    • RyanTexan

      I have to chuckle at the liberals who say "I'm all for personal responsibility, I just don't want anyone to experience the consequences of it."

      October 17, 2013 at 17:40 | Report abuse |
  2. MomofTeens

    Given a choice of oreos and a normal food supply would have been a better test. Rice cakes vs. oreos, filler vs. fat, no nutritional value in either option but one has flavor and one doesn't. Not a very convincing test, addiction is choice of addictive item vs. value, this was not. Having teenage girls, neither would choose oreos over a balanced meal, they would choose them over an apple or carrot sticks as a snack. Neither case really proves addictive potential.

    October 16, 2013 at 18:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • jamie

      Addiction is choice of addictive item vs value?
      What does that mean exactly?

      October 16, 2013 at 20:02 | Report abuse |
  3. cheetah2003

    Uh no. This is silly nonsense. Got this off slashdot:

    Here's how the experiment, which has not been peer reviewed and has not been presented yet, went down. Mice were placed in a maze, with one end holding an Oreo and the other end holding a rice cake. The mice, without fail, decided to eat the Oreo over the rice cake, proving once and for all that mice like cookies better than tasteless discs with a styrofoamy texture.

    http://science.slashdot.org/story/13/10/16/2014241/no-oreos-arent-as-addictive-as-cocaine

    October 16, 2013 at 18:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • BioHzrd420

      You know what they say..."If you give a mouse a cookie, he is bound to want some milk"

      October 17, 2013 at 21:30 | Report abuse |
  4. Demigod Vadik, CA

    Giving perfectly good cocaine to rats...

    ...what a waste...

    October 16, 2013 at 18:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • dogparkdave

      Really? Someone makes an off center joke about wasting cocaine and you wish them dead? Wow – you've got issues.

      October 16, 2013 at 21:06 | Report abuse |
    • OsborneLV

      Coke and other very addictive drugs are bad, and this is coming from an addict. I HATE DRUGS, pills are the worst! I wish I never touched opiates, and for people who hate on addicts, it's not something we all wanted to be when we were kids. unless you have experience with addiction then you shouldn't talk bad about those who do have that problem. A true addiction is something that is very hard to overcome and effects people of all walks of life. I blame the government for most addictions, by allowing prescription only pills to advertise on TV and such as magic bullets to a better life and the healthcare system's capitalist approach of treating and not curing people. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a cure for cancer but has been withheld simply because cures don't make the money treatments do

      October 16, 2013 at 22:23 | Report abuse |
    • thestrokesonfire

      I agree

      October 17, 2013 at 04:18 | Report abuse |
  5. DopamineDoc

    Furthermore, I'd love to hear these undergrads define their independent variable. An Oreo...what are we testing here? High fat? High sugar? Novel texture? High calorie content? Higher weight per volume of food consumed? I seriously doubt this study would get through peer review. I'd smack it down fast.

    I taught scientific methodology to undergrads for 5 years, and this could not be a more perfect example of a study with too many confounds to be interpretable.

    October 16, 2013 at 18:42 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JLS639

      This is a standard conditioned place preference experiment. An animals preference for one of two chambers is established and a rewarding stimulus (in this case, Oreos or cocaine) or control stimulus (in the case, Rice cakes or saline) is given in the less preferred side. Look up the Wikipedia article on "conditioned place preference."

      October 16, 2013 at 18:59 | Report abuse |
    • BioHzrd420

      I would still argue that standardized rat chow or some type snack equivalent would be a better control. Even dogs don't touch rice cakes.

      October 17, 2013 at 21:36 | Report abuse |
  6. Dandy Dizmore

    Is this an attempt to explain why the Federal House of Reps is totally screwed up?? Are they implying that they are hooked on Oreos too !?!?!

    October 16, 2013 at 18:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Portland tony

    If you wanna hang out youve got to take her out; cocaine.
    If you wanna get down, down on the ground; cocaine.
    She don't lie, she don't lie, she don't lie; cocaine.
    If you got bad news, you wanna kick them blues; cocaine.
    When your day is done and you wanna run; cocaine.
    She don't lie, she don't lie, she don't lie; cocaine.
    If your thing is gone and you wanna ride on; cocaine.
    Don't forget this fact, you can't get it back; cocaine.
    She don't lie, she don't lie, she don't lie; cocaine.
    She don't lie, she don't lie, she don't lie; cocaine.

    Credits: Eric Clapton Cocaine Lyrics Songwriters: LOURIS, GARY

    Do these lyrics sound like an Oreo addict's lament? Study? Jeez!

    October 16, 2013 at 19:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • scoo-b-dew

      J.J. Cale wrote (and recorded) "Cocaine". Much later, his good friend Eric Clapton then made it famous. Just saying.

      October 16, 2013 at 21:43 | Report abuse |
    • thestrokesonfire

      that song sucks

      October 17, 2013 at 04:18 | Report abuse |
  8. noillusion

    Did anyone really need to bother these animals with this stupid study? What a train wreck this place is.

    October 16, 2013 at 19:24 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Pat

      Totally agree! What a waste of our tax dollars!

      October 17, 2013 at 08:55 | Report abuse |
    • Pixey

      This study was done by student researchers (age/education level unknown), so it was not meant to be serious or life saving research. As the caveat states, this was simply to help us understand why some of our favorite junk foods are so addictive. It's a fun article, not meant to be groundbreaking or earth shattering.

      October 17, 2013 at 11:34 | Report abuse |
  9. ndginla

    Put some stoners (pot heads, marijuana smokers, or whatever label you prefer) in a room with Oreos on one side and Cocaine on the other. I am pretty sure the Oreos will be gone long before the coke. That is a study that would be worth doing.

    October 16, 2013 at 19:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • T3chsupport

      I volunteer for pot and cookies.

      Oh, I mean... science.

      October 16, 2013 at 19:50 | Report abuse |
    • Jennifer

      Awesome

      October 17, 2013 at 02:54 | Report abuse |
    • thestrokesonfire

      wow u smart

      October 17, 2013 at 04:17 | Report abuse |
    • wordsorter

      lol

      October 17, 2013 at 08:49 | Report abuse |
    • lol

      If u put coke heads in a room with pot on one side n cookies the other... It'll all be gone

      October 17, 2013 at 17:27 | Report abuse |
  10. T3chsupport

    Lame study. Of course rats like cookies more than crunchy air. And if they are going to get a shot anyway, of course they would prefer the one that gets them high (you know how rats are). This study proves nothing other than that rats have taste. Now, if they could introduce them to both cookies and cocain, and make them choose between those, you might have the beginning of a study.

    October 16, 2013 at 19:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. lela

    Hmmmm, I especially like the chocolate covered oreos. Hmmmmmm

    October 16, 2013 at 20:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Sabrina O.

    That's amazing.I would have never thought to do that.Oreos are like a drug because Several millions of people are addicted to them.That's a Sweet Fact.Haha

    October 16, 2013 at 20:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. KevininPHX

    This is very poor research. In fact, studies (real studies) have been done that show if the mice have something to do besides ingest cocaine, they typically will. The study showed that the preference for cocaine only existed if they were alone in a small cage. Put them in nicer surroundings, with other mice, they'd rather play and socialize, than take drugs.

    As has been suggested for decades, it's not the availability of the drug the makes the addiction persist, it's the lack of anything better to do.

    October 16, 2013 at 21:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ray

      these are rats not mice .!

      October 18, 2013 at 13:43 | Report abuse |
  14. Tel

    So is the story here, "Oreos are as addictive as cocaine," or "Cocaine is no more addictive than Oreos?"

    October 16, 2013 at 21:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Dan D.

    It irresponsible of CNN to publish an article that has not been peer reviewed and put out by students who only have a high school diploma to speak for their credentials.

    October 16, 2013 at 21:21 | Report abuse | Reply
    • lean6

      Oh come off of it...they publish a lot more harmful stuff than this from their "panels of experts." Besides, this is a blog; all sorts of opinionated garbage appears on blogs...that's what the "o" and "g" stand for.

      October 16, 2013 at 21:52 | Report abuse |
  16. oresEBTfood

    Poor people on EBT need oreos thats why us taxpayers pay to keep this company in business.

    October 16, 2013 at 21:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. russia

    Everyone missed the point: Do research, fabricate results, eat Oreos and insufflate the coke.

    October 16, 2013 at 21:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. minerva

    Could the rats have preferred the Oreos simply because they tasted better than anything else they had been fed? Animals have food preferences just as people do and so will tend to eat more of the preferred food. Anyone who feeds their pets knows that.

    I don't really think this experiment proves much except that rats like oreos. Most animals who have similar taste buds do. But try feeding one to a cat. Cats don't usually go for sweet things, they would turn their noses up at Oreos so what does that prove? Cats can't be addicted to Oreos? Or cocaine? Try catnip. But then again, not all cats respond to catnip either. It's complicated. Where were we?

    I hope the rats enjoyed their cookies.

    October 16, 2013 at 22:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Joe

    Have you ever banged on a stranger's door at 3:00 AM trying to score Oreos?

    October 16, 2013 at 22:40 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Samuel

      Yes and it worked 🙂

      October 17, 2013 at 11:40 | Report abuse |
  20. Elizabeth

    Oreos are very addictive, not just the chocolate ones either, also the golden ones, didn't need a study to tell me this. Humans are hard wired to love fat and sugar. I've always envied those who don't have a sweet tooth.

    October 16, 2013 at 23:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Dave

    Aahaah! Just what we've always suspected. Nabisco is a member of a huge government conspiracy to enslave the youth of America!

    October 16, 2013 at 23:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Norm

    Right now in Connecticut there are some ignorant liberal parents who are very proud they've raised ignorant liberal kids.

    October 16, 2013 at 23:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. sunfly

    This is irresponsible journalism. What these college kids did show, assuming their methods where solid, is that mice prefer oreo's to rice cakes. I would have bet money on that. They made no other connections. The tabloid articles it spawned are ludicrous.

    October 16, 2013 at 23:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Tucker

    Let me know when they start the human trials.

    October 17, 2013 at 00:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. arby's fan

    It's so cute when 2 rats work together to twist two Oreos apart, and then put the creme-heavy sides together to make that double Oreo.

    October 17, 2013 at 02:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Jennifer

    Now let's give rats a choice of Oreos or cocaine and see which is more addictive

    October 17, 2013 at 02:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Marc

    I'd hate to break it to researchers... They'd think anything with any flavor was addictive as cocaine if they were only fed lab blocks (bulk rat chow, small pressed blocks of "food") and water normally...

    October 17, 2013 at 04:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. justino

    Oreo's are sugar and grease of course rats love them – how much money did they waist on this research?

    October 17, 2013 at 05:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • richard muller

      How much? More than most people will be willing to believe! Remember the Great Ketchup Flow Research? All it did was sell more Carly Simon music ("Anticipation":)...

      October 17, 2013 at 05:44 | Report abuse |
  29. Whome

    This story could also read, politicos and freeloaders addicted to taxpayers money like lab rats to Oreos.

    October 17, 2013 at 05:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. richard muller

    ATTENTION AMERICANS: More sex, good. More Congress, bad. More jokes about debt ceiling, good. Getting the jokers out of Congress, VERY good! More Laws, bad. More debt, bad. Less Congressional control over us, GOOD!

    October 17, 2013 at 05:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Susie

    I have always thought they put an appetizer stimulant in breakfast cereal, bread etc.Seems when I eat breakfast, I'm hungry all day.

    October 17, 2013 at 06:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. MikeS

    Small college students created elementary school science fair project, inaccurately hype the results, and get on CNN. Only the last part of that is news. Those students aren't getting their money's worth paying "the highest tuition among U.S. private, nonprofit four- year schools."

    October 17, 2013 at 07:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. humtake

    So...what this study found is that animals like things that taste better. What a shocker.

    October 17, 2013 at 07:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Jose

    I remember when Oreos were made of lard and sugar 30 or so years ago. However, the low fat craze took in and they replaced the ingredients with high fructose corn syrup and trans fats, resulting in the fat and diabetic epidemics. The end

    October 17, 2013 at 10:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. James

    Coke AND Oreos? Wish I was a rat.

    October 17, 2013 at 10:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Jon

    Food is addictive? You better believe it! I've tried to kick the habit. But after a couple of days, I'm consuming it again. Dihydras Monoxide is even worse; I gotta have it every day. But the worst is O-2. Can't go without snorting that more than a minute.

    October 17, 2013 at 13:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Chris

    If they want test to see if Oreos are addictive to humans, I volunteer to be a subject.

    October 17, 2013 at 13:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Courtney

    Despite the fact that mice are vile, why is it okay to feed them cocaine? What is wrong with people?

    October 17, 2013 at 13:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. sallyedelstein

    It may be hard to swallow but once upon a time sugar was not the unhealthy villain it is viewed today but an "essential" nutrient. Through the first half of the 20th century sugar was deemed essential to health-good tasting and good for you. In fact it was sanctioned by Uncle Sam as part of the 7 essential food groups of WWII. No one fanned the sugar flame more than Corn Products Refining Co. producers of dextrose sugar whose ads encouraged "By all means. let em' eat cake...and candy too! Dextrose was the wonder nutrient. For a look at a collection of vintage Dextrose ads whose messages seem as quaint as the images themselves http://envisioningtheamericandream.com/2013/03/11/stay-as-sweet-as-you-are/

    October 17, 2013 at 14:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Bob

    If this research was funded by the government, we could use another shutdown.

    October 17, 2013 at 14:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. WWJME

    Reblogged this on PALEO / PRIMAL LIFESTYLE and commented:
    I guess I was an Oreo addict. Should have went to rehab

    October 17, 2013 at 14:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. jackie

    I would NOT call this a valid study. First of all, it is only common sense that if you give someone a choice between oreos (or any other cookie, or food for that matter) or plain rice cakes - 90% of society would choose anything other than a rice cake. Second, if the mice were given a drug that made them feel good versus something like water that didn't even have taste to it, of course they would want the thing that made them feel good (mice don't know anything about drugs). But I have been saying this for years - when you don't have a lot of money and have a choice of buying something cheap that will fill you up versus something expensive and healthy, but will not fill you up, most would choose to be full. People that don't have a lot of money and many people to feed don't have many choices because the healthy food is too expensive and it would cost a lot per day to feed a family the amount of servings required to be healthy.

    October 17, 2013 at 14:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Patrick Quon

    I tried to explain this to twenty different doctors over the years. I even remember saying, "It's not stomach hunger; it's BRAIN hunger." They scoffed and refused to even listen.

    Maybe this next generation of doctors will get it: It's BRAIN hunger that drives over-eating, not normal, garden-variety hunger. You can be Thanksgiving full and still have BRAIN HUNGER. Hello?

    October 17, 2013 at 15:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. John

    Imagine if it was Girl Scout cookies!

    October 17, 2013 at 15:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Somebody

    Why oreos of all the cookies in all the world? darnit black and white can NEVER come together.....Hahahahahahahah

    October 17, 2013 at 16:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. muleskinner

    Chill out people, the goverment is trying to get you to eat Oreos instead of snorting cocaine! That's all. Oh, stay away from the Skittles – they'll get you shot at in America!

    October 17, 2013 at 17:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. muleskinner

    Rats won't eat Skittles, they fear being shot.

    October 17, 2013 at 17:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Rshero34

    I can see fat people all over the world blaming junk food addiction for being obese. The fact of the matter is anyone or anything with out morales or knowledge of how hurmful coke and Oreos can be would chose to Oreos over a rice cake and cocaine over saline. The rats don't have the knowledge to say well drugs are bad i wont do them and Oreos are bad for your health so i will only have a few. Humans who choose to eat like crap and do drugs will have to face the long term problems and it is not like that information is hidden. I do not understand this study and can only wonder where they are going with this and how much money they blew to prove the obvious. The only thing i can see is a bunch of fat people trying to check in to rehab because they are addicted to double stuff Oreos.

    October 17, 2013 at 19:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Mike

    I tried going out with a box to trade for some 'favors', but did not like all the crumbs in my shorts

    October 17, 2013 at 21:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Barbara

    This is the height of irresponsible journalism. The study is not peer-reviewed. It's just sensationalism. And using the word "addiction" – when the article itself says the study doesn't fit the definition – is just designed to attract readers. This is complete and utter BS and should be taken down.

    October 18, 2013 at 15:09 | Report abuse | Reply
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