One just can’t stop at a half bar of chocolate, can they? Considering how chocolate gets people hooked, we often get asked, "Is chocolate a drug?"
Not every edible that you get addicted to is a drug. Sometimes, your impulsive love for that particular item gets you hooked so strongly that there’s no stopping the craving. The same is the case with chocolates. If you’re a chocolate lover, you’ll very well know what we mean. Have you ever caught yourself wondering if chocolate is a drug?
Chocolates are, undoubtedly, addictive, but they aren’t drugs. Chocolates are a mere dessert that people love. What makes it so hard to stop when eating chocolates is the neurologic impact that chocolates have on the brain, which is very similar to what hard drugs like cocaine have.
Most chocolate lovers, upon being asked why they love chocolates so much, say that they feel happy. And this isn’t just a feeling. There’s a good reason why you feel pleasure when you eat chocolate. Chemicals found in chocolates stimulate the pleasure centers of your brain, so you can’t help but feel good. The feeling of pleasure and elation is so pleasant and addictive for some that they just can’t stop going overboard with chocolates. Although you may feel badly addicted to chocolates, it’s nowhere close to hard drugs like marijuana and heroin.
One of the most popular questions about chocolates is whether chocolates are a drug. We’ve tried to answer your question based on several scientific studies and research conducted by experts.
The Psychopharmacologic Impact of Chocolate
Consumption of chocolate can produce a behavioral and psychopharmacologic impact that’s similar to what one would experience after consuming a hard drug or alcohol. So, if you think you’re addicted to chocolate, you most probably are, but that’s not because chocolate is a drug but because it produces an effect similar to drugs!
What Does Chocolate Contain?
Chocolate doesn’t just contain cocoa and sugar. It contains many biologically active components like biogenic amines, methylxanthines, and fatty acids. 2 of the most prominent constituents present in chocolate are caffeine and theobromine, both of which are neuroactive.
Effects of Neuroactive Constituents of Chocolate on the Brain
Neuroactive agents are constituents that stimulate the brain cells. When you consume chocolate, these neuroactive agents stimulate the opiate receptors present in the brain. The stimulation of opiate receptors activates the pleasure centers of your brain. Upon activation, pleasure centers release neurochemicals into the blood that make you feel good. This is exactly how other drugs work to make you feel better almost instantly.
The only difference between chocolate and other hard drugs is that the activation of pleasure centers and the extent of neurochemicals release aren’t on a level that could make us consider chocolate a drug.
But the trajectory of action of chocolates is quite similar to other dangerous drugs. This is why you should avoid consuming too much chocolate at a time. Excessive consumption of chocolates can also lead to adverse health effects like obesity, high cholesterol, and type-II diabetes, apart from the temporary ‘high.’
Near-Drug Effect of Chocolates
The near-drug effect of chocolates isn’t solely due to the presence of caffeine and theobromine. There are other constituents of chocolate that all work together to produce an effect that appears to be ‘chocolate addiction.’
Chocolate contains small quantities of Anandamide which is an endogenous cannabinoid found in the brain. Anandamide targets all the same receptors in the brain as the active ingredient of cannabis. The impact isn’t as profound as cannabis, though.
According to experts, you’ll have to consume several kilos of chocolate for the Anandamide to produce a substantial impact (like that of cannabis). There’s a reason why chocolate doesn’t produce a high similar to cannabis, despite it targeting the same receptors. The chocolate itself contains some chemicals that slow the process of Anandamide breakdown, and this is why chocolate isn’t considered a drug. It’s like a drug and antidote in one package!
Theobromine is the most important neuroactive chemical present in chocolate that stimulates the brain. Its effect on the brain is quite similar to caffeine. It relaxes smooth muscles, increases the production of urine (diuretic), and is a mild stimulant. Because of the mood-improving effects of theobromine, you instantly feel good after eating chocolates. The effect is mild but lasts a while.
The brain uses tryptophan to produce serotonin which is a neurotransmitter. High levels of this neurotransmitter produce feelings of happiness, delight, and ecstasy. No wonder chocolates make us feel all of these!
Phenylethylene is often referred to as chocolate amphetamine. Increased levels of phenylethylamine promote feelings of excitement, attraction, apprehension, and giddiness. It stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain.
Chocolate has the highest concentration of phenylethylamine compared to other foods. However, the impact of phenylethylamine in chocolate isn’t seen as a threat despite being in such a high concentration because most of it is metabolized in the body before it reaches the brain.
About THE AUTHOR
Lori has been a Culinary Arts instructor for twenty years. She has taught in the public school setting, at the collegiate level and through adult continuing education as well as running several cooking and baking camps for children. She has participated in several cooking, cake & chocolate contests and has been well recognized. She has raised thousands of dollars for charities using the byline “Saving the World one Cupcake at a Time”. Additionally, she has had several articles regarding food published in various magazines.Read More About Lori Gilmore