Psychoactive Chocolate: Myth or Reality?

Psychoactive chocolate is a recent theory that chocolate is a food that directly triggers cravings and addictions in the brain -- Is it true?

Heard the buzz about psychoactive chocolate yet? Some folks -- scientists, even -- have started to claim that certain chemicals characteristic of chocolate are addictive. Not like, say, heroin or nicotine, but enough to notice. This, they say, is what causes the dread disease chocoholism.

We're a little skeptical, but we're quite aware that our "food of the gods" does contain such semi-addictive substances as caffeine and theobromine, as well as slight traces of tryptophan. Now they're talking in tongue-twisty terms such as phenylethylamine and anandamide. What's an X-Choc fan to believe?

Wasting away again in Chocolitaville

There's no doubt that chocolate can give you a boost and does have some health benefits. After all, chocolate is high in magnesium which your body needs. It also contains flavinoids, which are antioxidant compounds that can slow damage to body cells. But what about these claims for psychoactive chocolate? Can they be true?

We all know about the feel-good properties of caffeine and theobromine, but those are minor compared to the sugar rush you get from most chocolates. Still, some proponents of chocolate as a psychoactive food point to the presence of anandamide, a cannabinoid found in tiny amounts in some chocolates.

A cannabinoid is a drug related to THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. Some say that's proof positive for psychoactive chocolate, but they don't tell you that you'd have to eat several pounds of dark chocolate to even notice the effect (and pounds more to get really high).

What about those other things?

Chocolate is well known to be "loaded" with phenylethylamine (PEA), a precursor to a neurotransmitter that makes us feel good. This fact has promoted the so-called "chocolate theory of love" among the ill-informed. The truth is, very little of the PEA makes it to the central nervous system. PEA is mostly digested.

So, for the proponents of psychoactive chocolate, that's another swing and a miss. Neither phenylethylamine nor anandamide seems to have any real psychoactive effect on its eaters. So what does, if anything? Well, caffeine and its relatives, especially theobromine and theophylline, actually do seem to affect choco lovers.

We knew it already, of course, but recently British scientists (gotta love 'em) have proven in a scientific study that the so-called "methylxanthines" do have a mild stimulant effect -- very mild, since they're the mildest of stimulants. Sugar, however, probably exerts a greater influence.

But we say the research should continue. Has anyone made a serious study of the interactions between phenylethylamine, anandamide, and methylxanthines all mixed together? No they have not, as far as we know. So maybe the concept of psychoactive chocolate isn't such a bad one after all, and we'd like to volunteer.