This Popular Painkiller May Dull More Than Just Pain

Research finds that acetaminophen numbs pain as well as emotions

AspirinThis article originally appeared on Live in the Now.

Millions of Americans take painkillers, many of them on a regular basis. In fact, over 50 million Americans take acetaminophen — the active ingredient in Tylenol and many other common painkillers — every single week. But new research finds that these painkillers numb pain as well as all types of emotion in general, including positive emotions and pleasure.

Acetaminophen has been used in the United States for over 70 years and is the most common drug ingredient used in the U.S. today. Although acetaminophen is known to be effective against physical and psychological pain, a link had not previously been made to positive emotions. However, a new research study, based on research out of Ohio State University and published in the journal Psychological Science, discovered just such a link.

In their trial, scientists studied a group of 82 college students, who either received 1,000 milligrams of the acetaminophen or a placebo. After a 60-minute waiting period to allow the drug to take effect, the students were presented with a series of photographs that were intended to trigger certain emotional reactions.

The photographs varied greatly, showing heartwarming photos of children playing with pets, unpleasant photos of crying, malnourished children, and neutral photos, such as a cow in a field. After viewing each photo, the participants were asked to rate the photos between extremely negative or extremely positive on a 10-point scale, and then to gauge the intensity of the emotional reaction that they perceived, again on a 10-point scale. Interestingly, those students who had taken the medication rated the photos less negatively or positively, and also reported less of an emotional reaction. Essentially, regardless of what type of emotion they felt, those students who took the drug felt that emotion to a lesser degree.

The mechanism through which acetaminophen produces this effect remains unclear, and whether or not other types of pain relievers (such as ibuprofen and aspirin) have the same impact remains under investigation. Regardless, as the study’s lead author Geoffrey Durso stated, “this means that using Tylenol or similar products might have broader consequences than previously thought” and that “acetaminophen can be seen as an all-purpose emotion reliever.” More research is required to better understand this relationship, but this research study implies that there could be more negative consequences to taking painkillers that have not yet been discovered.

Although the impact of other types of painkillers on emotions remains to be seen, there may be better options to taking medication regardless of the type. Next time you are in pain, considering trying some of these natural painkilling solutions before you turn to medication.

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