Should sugar be classified as a drug?


Fact Box

  • According to the Harvard School of Public Health, an average American eats about 22 teaspoons--or 88 grams--of added sugar every day. 
  • Sugar is produced by extracting juice from sugar cane or sugar beet plants, and “through slight adjustments in the process of cleaning, crystallizing and drying the sugar and varying the level of molasses, different sugar varieties are possible. Sugar color is primarily determined by the amount of molasses remaining on or added to the crystals.”
  • There are six different types of sugar: glucose, fructose, galactose, sucrose, lactose, and maltose. Table sugar, or added sugar, is sucrose.
  • A 2019 Healthline survey revealed that 9 out of 10 respondents think “American diets are too sugar-filled.” 

Sheryll (Yes)

Research suggests sugar consumption affects the brain in ways similar to hard drugs. One highly cited Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews study found that sugar meets the criteria to be considered a 'substance of abuse' and is highly addictive to those who binge on it. The study proved how regular consumption of sugar was likely to lead to neurochemical changes that resemble the effects of psychoactive substances. It does this by affecting the chemistry of the limbic system, which is the part of the brain associated with emotional control. 

Many experts believe sugar is the most dangerous drug of the modern era, mainly because it is so easily acquired and does not receive the same level of public disapproval that is directed towards other substances of abuse. Today, most of us may not even realize we are addicted to sugar because we'll never go long enough without it to find out. 

Sugar is also widely known for being incredibly damaging to the human body. Robert Lustig, a neuroendocrinologist, believes sugar acts as a poison in high doses and that 'the amount in our diets has gone beyond toxic.' Over long periods, sugar consumption can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and certain cancers. Overconsumption can also raise blood pressure and increase chronic inflammation, both of which are pathological pathways to heart disease. Considering all these factors, it would arguably be in everyone's best interest for sugar to be treated as a dangerous drug and be regulated as much as possible.  

Stephen (No)

Our body needs the natural sugars we obtain from food. It's essential for brain function. Added sugars obviously vary from natural sugars but are in the same family. In fact, your body doesn't know the difference between the two and treats them the same. Like those found in fruits, natural sugar is preferable for the body, but if you're running low on sugar, giving it added sugars is better than giving it nothing. That's why after giving blood, they give you a cookie over giving you nothing at all. Nobody 'needs drugs' (excluding prescriptions) in any scenario.

As with anything else, we must control our intake of added sugars as there's a limit as to what is too much. But just as there's an amount that's too much, there's also an acceptable amount. The same is not true for real drugs, such as cocaine or heroin, where there is no acceptable amount. Nothing could be classified as a drug if there's an amount above 0 that's allowed each day. Another aspect of what makes a drug a drug is its addictive properties. We all know that's a problem as the brain and body will crave drugs after they're initially introduced. 

Many think sugar is addictive, but along with other nutrients, it's not addictive; our brain never craves sugar specifically. Eating is a habit that may become addicting to some, and people's preference for sugary treats may incorrectly lead them to conclude that sugar is what they're craving. Additionally, drug tests are done to evaluate whether athletes have an unfair edge, whether drivers' or employees' motor skills and judgments are impaired, etc.. Yet, nobody looks to sugar to study it for the same effect. Why? Simply put, because sugar does nothing of the sort.

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