Cravings: Ashes and Ice


Many Americans may have questions about odd food cravings and wonder why some people want to eat non-food substances such as ice or even cigarette ashes.  The answers to this question may lie with a condition known as Pica disease. Pica disease affects many Americans, as well as people all around the globe. Pica disease causes individuals to experience non-food cravings.

Although the disease is not common, it has the ability to affect anyone, and is found in children as well as adults. One may crave ice, ashes, dirt, or even paint. Those who ingest paint are at a high risk of developing lead disease. Pica can be diagnosed after a medical examination. Doctors may conduct X-rays and blood tests to determine whether an individual suffers from this disease.

According to WebMD, Pica usually develops in childhood. Pica is also associated with individuals who suffer from mental retardation, developmental disabilities, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. These conditions may cause the odd eating behavior. Individuals who are ingesting ice, ashes, or dirt may develop anemia or  toxicity, or suffer from intestinal blockages. Pica disease can be treated with close medical monitoring. More complex cases are handled by skilled mental health experts. Pica disease can only be diagnosed if behavior is persistent for more than one month. There are no medicines prescribed for Pica itself.

Pica is a Latin-derived word for magpie, a bird that eats anything. Ice, ashes, and other cravings for indigestible substances that have no nutritional value can be very harmful to internal organs. Children with this disease tend to ingest paint which can lead to lead poisoning.  They also eat other substances like plaster, hair, cloth, and string. Older children may consume sand, leaves, insects, or animal droppings. Adults and teens commonly eat soil or clay, wire, wood, and chalk to name a few. Pica can affect anyone at any age, although it seems to be more prevalent in individuals who have a certain type of disorder. shares the story of a woman who is addicted to cigarette ashes. The woman appeared on an episode of My Strange Addiction, where she revealed that cigarette ashes were not the only oddity she was addicted to. The woman also shared that she was addicted to eating pottery. She stows the pottery, something like terra-cotta, in a plastic zip-lock bag and stuffs it in her boot. She spends about 150 hours a month eating the pottery. The woman explains, on a mini recap of the show, that she took to cigarette ashes because the texture was a bit grittier than the pottery. She does not smoke the cigarettes,  she steals the ashtray from her sister to get her fix.

As stated earlier, the disease is not common, but doctors would expect those who suffer from Pica disease to have mental illness. Pica could be very harmful depending on what an individual ingests. Cravings for ashes and ice may be an indication that the body lacks certain minerals. Experts advise that anyone habitually craving and eating dirt, ashes, or any other odd commodity should see a doctor.

By Erica Sandifer