Source: Philadelphia Inquirer (PA)
Copyright: 1998 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.
Pubdate: Dec 16, 1998
Author: Paul Nussbaum


Go ahead, indulge your chocolate fantasies. They may make you fat, they may
make you happy, but they won't, apparently, make you high.

Scientists in Italy reported today that, contrary to earlier reports,
certain substances in chocolate do not appear to mimic the effects of
marijuana on the brain.

The Italian researchers reported that cocoa contains no more of the suspect
substances than such uncelebrated foods as milk or oatmeal. Furthermore,
they said, most of the substances -- known as endocannabinoids -- are
broken down in the digestive system before they reach the brain.

Vincenzo Di Marzo, of the Istituto per la Chimica di Molecole di Interesse
Biologico in Naples, and colleagues reported their findings in today's
issue of the journal Nature.

Di Marzo said yesterday that it would take at least 100,000 times the test
dosage, which was equivalent to 3 ounces of chocolate, to detect any
psychoactive response from the brain.

That would mean a 22,000-pound candy bar.

Di Marzo's research was proposed and partially funded by the Nestle
Research Center, a subsidiary of the Swiss-based chocolate-maker. But Di
Marzo said Nestle "never tried to influence our results or lead our
research." He said Nestle provided cocoa beans for testing and about 10 to
15 percent of the funding for the research. But he said he and his fellow
researchers also bought chocolate in their neighborhood supermarkets for
testing to avoid relying on Nestle for its chocolate.

Di Marzo and his colleagues tested unfermented cocoa beans, cocoa powder,
and finished chocolate to measure levels of endocannabinoids and to analyze
their biological effects. They were following up on a report published in
1996 that suggested that chocolate could make people feel good because of
the substances "that could act as cannabinoid mimics."

But the chocolate-as-drug debate is sure to continue. The authors of the
original report responded in today's Nature article that the Di Marzo study
"will reassure manufacturing companies that the risks of chocolate
consumption do not include cannabis-like intoxification, [ but ] they
provide little new information on the intriguing psychopharmacology of cocoa."

One of the initial report's authors, Daniele Piomelli, associate professor
of pharmacology at the University of California, Irvine, said yesterday:
"Dr. Di Marzo and his colleagues are entitled to think that chocolate has
no pharmacological effect at all. But then how do they explain chocolate
craving, its prevalence in women during menstruation, its unusual
occurrence in certain cases of drug abuse? These facts, which have been
documented in the scientific literature, point to a biological basis for
chocolate craving."

Piomelli said he and his colleagues have continued their research on the
effects of the components of chocolate and will soon release the results. 
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Checked-by: Mike Gogulski