Are Chocolate Chip Cookies As Addictive As Cocaine?

By Maggie Ethridge 09/07/18

Researchers examined the ingredients in chocolate chip cookies to determine why they are so addictive for some.

woman holding a tray of chocolate chip cookies

Science has turned in a humdinger: studies indicate that sugar and sweetness can induce reward and craving that are comparable to those induced by cocaine.

Research giving laboratory rats rewards of sugars and sweets shows that these goodies can not only replace a drug, but can even surpass the drug in the rats' preference.

CNN reports there are a variety of reasons for this powerful effect, including an emotional connection to good memories of baking. Kathleen King, founder of Tate's Bake Shop in Southampton, New York, and maker of a top-rated chocolate chip cookie, shared with CNN, "If I'm celebrating, I can have a couple of cookies, but if I'm sad, I want 10 cookies. While the cookie is in your mouth, that moment is happiness—and then it's gone, and you're sad again, and you have another one."

The study shows that at a neurobiological level, the qualities of sugar and sweet rewards are apparently stronger than those of cocaine. The study indicates evolutionary pressures in seeking foods high in sugar and calories as a possible reason for this.

In addition, according to CNN, chocolate contains trace amounts of the compound anandamide. Anandamide is also a brain chemical that targets the same cell receptors as THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. So there may be another chemical basis for the intense pleasure that many people get from a chocolate chip cookie.

This also explains the insane popularity of "marijuana brownies" which combines THC and the chemical hit of chocolate. These chewy treats are so beloved that guru Martha Stewart even has a recipe for pot brownies.

Salt is an important element to the chocolate chip cookie’s addictive quality.

"It is what adds interest to food, even if it's a sweet food, because it makes the sugar and other ingredients taste better and come together better," Gail Vance Civille, founder and president of Sensory Spectrum, told CNN. "A pinch of salt in cookies really makes a difference, and it enhances sweetness a little bit."

Gary Wenk, director of neuroscience undergraduate programs at the Ohio State University and author of Your Brain on Food, notes that cookies high in fat and sugar will raise the level of anandamide in the brain regardless of what other ingredients are in the cookie.

“The fat and sugar combine to induce our addiction as much as does the anandamide," Wenk told CNN. "It's a triple play of delight."

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Maggie May Ethridge is the author of Atmospheric Disturbances: Scenes From a Marriage (Shebooks, 2014) and the recently completed novel, Agitate My Heart. She is a freelance writer published in Rolling Stone, VOX, Washington Post, The Guardian and many others. Find her at her blog Flux Capacitor or on LinkedIn or Twitter.