Theobromine and the pharmacology of cocoa

Handb Exp Pharmacol. 2011:(200):201-34. doi: 10.1007/978-3-642-13443-2_7.


The effects of theobromine in man are underresearched, possibly owing to the assumption that it is behaviourally inert. Toxicology research in animals may appear to provide alarming results, but these cannot be extrapolated to humans for a number of reasons. Domestic animals and animals used for racing competitions need to be guarded from chocolate and cocoa-containing foods, including foods containing cocoa husks. Research ought to include caffeine as a comparative agent, and underlying mechanisms need to be further explored. Of all constituents proposed to play a role in our liking for chocolate, caffeine is the most convincing, though a role for theobromine cannot be ruled out. Most other substances are unlikely to exude a psychopharmacological effect owing to extremely low concentrations or the inability to reach the blood-brain barrier, whilst chocolate craving and addiction need to be explained by means of a culturally determined ambivalence towards chocolate.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biogenic Amines / pharmacology
  • Cacao*
  • Caffeine / pharmacology
  • Doping in Sports
  • Humans
  • Theobromine / metabolism
  • Theobromine / pharmacology*
  • Theobromine / toxicity


  • Biogenic Amines
  • Caffeine
  • Theobromine