Are Oreos as addictive as cocaine? A new study purports to draw a link, but don’t check into a treatment center for your Double Stuf addiction just yet.
Following a Connecticut College press release on an undergraduate student research project, a number of headlines have blared warnings such as “Oreos May Be as Addictive as Cocaine” (Time) and “College study finds Oreo cookies are as addictive as drugs” (Fox News). The research behind the headlines is not quite so certain, however.
According to the college, student researchers put rats in a maze with two sides. On one side, the rats were rewarded for traversing the maze with delicious, sugary Oreos. On the other side, they got bland and boring rice cakes. The students measured how long the rats spent on either side of the maze. [7 Foods You Can Overdose On]
Unsurprisingly, the Oreos were more popular than the rice cakes. The students then repeated the experiment, but this time the reward on one side of the maze was a shot of morphine or cocaine. On the other side, it was a shot of saline.
The results revealed that rats given the choice between Oreos and rice cakes spent as much time on the Oreo side of the maze as the rats given the choice between cocaine and saline did on the cocaine side. But that doesn’t mean the Oreos were as addictive.
“The study performed cannot determine whether Oreos are as addictive as cocaine,” said Edythe London, a UCLA researcher who uses brain imaging to study the neural basis of drug cravings.
“That question is best addressed in a comparison of how hard a rat will work for Oreos versus cocaine — how many times a rat will press a lever to get one or the other.”
The students also measured the rats’ expression of a protein called c-Fos, which indicates brain cell activity, in the nucleus accumbens. This brain region is important for pleasure and positive reinforcement and is involved in addiction because of the pleasurable feelings brought on by drugs.
The rats’ nucleus accumbens activated more strongly with the stimulus of Oreos than with the stimulus of cocaine, but London said those findings don’t prove anything about the addictive potential of Oreos. The study is “consistent with the fact that Oreos produce pleasure, “ said London. “But we knew that.”