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New Drug Craze: Snorting Cocoa (Chocolate) Instead Of Cocaine

Debra Wallace, MA.Ed, LPCC-S, LICDC-CS

Medically reviewed by

Debra Wallace, MA.Ed, LPCC-S, LICDC-CS

April 8, 2019

Although uncommon, many people snort food powders as an alternative to drugs. While this may seem harmless, using any kind of substance in a way other than its intended purpose can cause adverse health consequences. Learn how snorting cocoa powder can damage sensitive tissues in the nose and lead to other negative effects.

In the day and age of designer drugs, you may be surprised to know that one of the newest trends sweeping Europe and making its way to America is not a drug. Instead, it is a substance that a vast amount of Americans have many times, and legally, already ingested: cocoa (the main ingredient of chocolate). As strange as this may sound, this is not the first time food items have become popularly snorted, ill-fated attempts at snorting Smarties candies and the spice nutmeg (due to its supposed hallucinogenic properties) have previously been frenzied crazes within the U.S.

Opposite of what you may think, this practice derives not because of the sugar high—while chocolate in its processed form contains varying amounts of sugar, cocoa typically is sugar-free—the supposed buzz or euphoric state is instead attributed to the chemical properties of the cocoa itself.

The History

According to Smithsonian.com, despite the fact that many researchers believe chocolate to be only 2,000 years old, others assert that it was, in fact, present in certain pre-Columbian cultures of Mesoamerica, dating back three or four millennia. Chocolate has always been valuable, the article tells us, even being used at times as currency, while also having “magical, or even divine, properties” attributed to it within Mayan and Aztec cultures, the latter of which also believed it to have mood-enhancing qualities. By the 17th century, chocolate was touted as having both medicinal and aphrodisiac potentials.

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Proponents Of Cocoa Snorting Use It Instead Of Illicit Drugs

An Ozy news report was one of the first to report on this aberrant behavior, specifically writing about a cocoa-charged party in Berlin, Germany. They reported “It’s said to impart a brain-boosting rush and tons of energy, enough to transform its users into raging Energizer bunnies…. Proponents say that raw, virgin cacao is far more potent than you ever imagined. First comes a surge of endorphins into your bloodstream, which increases acuity and fuels you with feelings of euphoria. Then there’s the flood of magnesium, which relaxes your muscles and de-tenses your body.” U.S. News & World Report writes that this so-called buzz lasts approximately 15 minutes.

Snorting cocoa isn’t the only way users imbibe—party-goers are also reported consuming cocoa concoctions in a drink and pill form as well. It’s reported that this practice is so popular in parts of Europe, that some individuals prefer it over alcohol, cocaine, ecstasy, and ketamine.

How Does Chocolate Affect Your Brain?

Chocolate, and its base, cocoa, have long been associated with energy and a sense of well-being, among other things—research presented by the Journal of Affective Disorders notes that cocoa is also attributed with “properties of being a stimulant, relaxant, euphoriant, aphrodisiac, tonic and antidepressant.” In fact, while cocoa and chocolate are not drugs, they do exert a similar, albeit drastically lesser, effect on your brain that is present with nearly all drugs of abuse—an influence on and increase of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Beyond this, research also shows that cocoa influences the production of serotonin, an important “feel good” chemical responsible for proper mood regulation.

Other chemical components of cocoa are purported to exert a pleasurable effect as well, including two called anandamide and phenylethylamine. To counter these claims, Oxy presented information on the subject from Dr. Catherine Kwik-Uribe, the director of research and development for Mars Symbioscience, a science-based department of Mars, Incorporated (the company responsible for many well-known chocolate bars). She asserts that though these chemicals are present, they are found in such negligible amounts, that they would not be able to effectively offer mood-altering properties, thus, the good feelings attributed to snorting cocoa—likely a placebo effect.

Despite these assertions, there has been research that illustrates chocolate may have a drug-like effect. University of Michigan: Michigan News reported on study findings on rat subjects, which documented a surge in a chemical called enkephalin, an opiate-like endorphin, which spiked significantly when the rats consumed M&Ms, leading them to consume more than double the amount. Researchers found that the enkephalin’s mechanism of action “generates intense motivation to consume pleasant rewards… The same brain area we tested here is active when…drug addicts see drug scenes.

So it seems likely that our enkephalin findings in rats mean that this neurotransmitter may drive some forms of…addiction in people.” Though they are not saying chocolate is a drug, what we can infer, is that their study found that it may exert drug-like effects, possibly crediting why some individuals choose to use it this way.

An Odd Invention May Be Fueling This Strange Behavior

A renowned Belgian chocolatier, Dominique Persoone is hailed for creating a contraption called a “Chocolate Shooter” that enables users to snort cocoa powder. According to Mr. Persoone’s business’ website, this device was created for and introduced at The Rolling Stones birthday party, and has since soared in production, with 25,000 units sold throughout the world.

About an eighth of a teaspoon of the accompanying product, termed “cocoa snuff powder,” is loaded onto a tiny spoon, which is essentially like a catapult that fires the powder into your nostrils. These chocolate mixtures are actually mixed with other food items—raspberry, mint, and ginger—to enhance the flavor experience. Due to the nose’s finite ability to pick up on innumerable scents, Mr. Persoone claims “sniffing chocolate is “another way of tasting it,” as reported by Live Science. Persoone did caution people not to snort cocoa or chocolate they have at home, citing that it is too dry and may become “like a chocolate jellyfish in your nose.”

Do The Health Benefits Make This Worth It?

While this behavior has been associated with drug- and alcohol-free raves and dance parties, a movement that is without a doubt positive in contrast to the infamous, and drug-laden, traditional parties, experts are hesitant to believe this practice is without risk.

Proponents of this craze may tout the many health benefits of cocoa as grounds for using the substance this way. While it is true that cocoa delivers numerous, powerful phytochemicals, including the antioxidants resveratrol, which boosts your immune system and flavonoids—which research suggests may, in conjunction with other phytochemicals, help to ward off heart disease and cancer—what we don’t know, is if these benefits are achieved when cocoa is utilized in this way, and if they are, if the benefits outweigh the risks.

Are There Any Risks Associated With This?

If you’re nervous about putting candy up your nose, there may be a reason to be. According to information sourced from the University of Michigan Integrative Medicine, research suggests that dark chocolate may trigger migraines, due to the presence of a chemical called tyramine. Considering this route of administration—snorting—and the proximity of the cocoa to delicate tissues near the brain, this could be a valid concern.

Lastly, as reported by Live Science, Dr. Jordan Josephson, an ear, nose, throat and sinus specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City commented specifically on this trend, noting “Snorting chocolate powder is not safe, because the powder is perceived by the nose as a foreign toxic substance. Putting any foreign bodies — including smoke, cocaine and/or chocolate powder — is not safe and is not advised.” Live Science continues, noting specific damage which may incur from snorting substances, according to Dr. Josephson, including “The powder can damage the microscopic hairs, or cilia, and membranes of the nose, causing problems with their ability to work correctly, as well as possible scarring.”

Despite the supposed allure and intrigue of this unusual practice, we strongly recommend that you do not use any substance in an attempt to induce a drug-like effect.

If You’re Worried Your Behaviors Point To Substance Abuse, Let Us Help You

If you’re concerned you have a drug problem and are seeking alternative ways to achieve a high, please reach out to us at RehabCenter.net for more information on how your drug-seeking and using may be causing damage to your body and brain. If you’ve just begun to dabble, please, take the time to learn more information, as to prevent the many risks drug abuse and addiction force upon a user.

International Cocoa Organization - Health and Nutrition

U.S. National Library of Medicine - Mood state effects of chocolate

LiveScience - Line of Cocoa: Is Chocolate Snorting Safe?

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