New Castle News

October 18, 2013

Our Opinion: Study sees similarities in cookies and cocaine

By Staff
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Every now and then, we reach the conclusion that scientific researchers have way too much time on their hands.

Take the report circulating this week that equates the eating of Oreos with cocaine addiction. Despite any supporting evidence, we think it’s ridiculous.

The reports come courtesy of researchers at Connecticut College. Their study involved putting rats in mazes, where one side of the maze allowed them to eat Oreos and the other side gave them the option of rice cakes.

To the surprise of absolutely no one — we suspect — the rats preferred to spend their time chowing down on cream-filled cookies, rather than puffed and bland grain.

Then the researchers gave their rodent subjects injections. Some contained cocaine; others were simply saline. Again, which one they received depended on the side of the maze they migrated to.

And here, researchers say they observed a similar desire among the rats to receive cocaine as they did Oreos.

The conclusion: There is an equal desire among the rats for Oreos as there is for cocaine.

“Our research supports the theory that high-fat, high-sugar foods stimulate the brain in the same way that drugs do,” said Joseph Schroeder, a neuroscience professor at Connecticut College.

“It may explain why some people can’t resist these foods, despite the fact they know they are bad for them.”

Co-author of the report, Jamie Hanohan went farther: “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.”

We have a problem with this.

First, we are more than willing to acknowledge that humans tend to be tempted by foods that aren’t good for them. And we suppose that rats — along with various other animals — are in the same category.

And for years, scientists have noted the similar chemical compositions of sugar and cocaine, and that they affect the brain in much the same way.

But we don’t think it’s constructive to equate sugar and cocaine, because there are fundamental differences. We’re also not sure it’s helpful for people looking to deal with weight issues to effectively give them a free pass by excusing them as addicted to sugar.

It’s also unclear whether the habits of rats can be compared to those of humans. After all, rats have no grasp of nutritional matters. They eat Oreos because they are seen as food and they like the taste. The fact they eat more than may be good for them can be attributed to biological drives to eat when food is available.

Humans may have those same instinctive drives. But they also possess intelligence and the ability to grasp other details. The solution to eating too much of a bad thing isn’t to declare it an addiction, it’s to put reason ahead of urges.