As if they weren't already too busy chasing dope, agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency will have their work cut out for them big time if Oreo cookies are added to the list of controlled substances.
That white stuff sandwiched in between two chocolate disks may not be cocaine, but it could be just as addicting. Using lab rats, researchers from Connecticut College have demonstrated that Oreo cookies can affect the brain in the same way as cocaine or morphine.
The experiment was the idea of Jamie Honohan, a neuroscience major at the Holleran Center for Community Action and Public Policy who was interested in how high-fat and high-sugar foods contribute to the obesity epidemic in America, theorizing that food can have a narcotic effect on the brain similar to drugs.
To test the addictiveness of America's favorite cookie, Honohan and her research team placed rice cakes and Oreos on opposite ends of a maze and measured to see how much time the rats would spend on either side. Then they compared the results of a similar test, except they replaced the Oreos and rice cakes with injections of morphine or cocaine on one side and saline on the other. It turns out that the rats conditioned with cookies spent as much time on the Oreo side of the maze as the rats conditioned with drugs.
"They would break it [the cookie] open and eat the middle first," Honohan said.
Honohan and team discovered that the Oreo's cream activated significantly more neurons in the nucleus accumbens -- the brain's pleasure center -- than morphine or cocaine. They used this finding and correlated it to behavioral observations from the maze tests.
This is a problem, Honohan says, because it means that high-fat and high-sugar foods are addictive. Does this mean that food can be considered a drug?
If a drug is a substance that produces a physiological effect or affects mood and behavior when consumed, then so does food. As you eat, your body produces leptin, a hormone that produces a feeling of satiation, thus affecting mood and behavior. And instead of getting really high when you binge, you just get fat. Skewing the definition of the word "drug" a little bit, it just goes to show that junk-food makers are some of the biggest peddlers around.
And in case you were wondering where the drugs for the experiment came from (not including the Oreos), Honohan's professor -- Joseph Schroeder -- is licensed by the DEA to purchase and use controlled substances for research.
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