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Science: 

Paracetemol kills pain… but wounds pleasure

paracetemol kills pain but wounds pleasure

Acetaminophen – the active painkiller in Tylenol and others – kills pain, but takes some pleasure as collateral damage. Image: Niloo / Shutterstock.com

Got a headache? Pop a paracetamol tablet, and like magic the pain is gone. One of the greatest inventions of all time, we’d say, especially if we have a hangover when asked the question. But what if we told you that as well as killing pain, paracetamol (or acetaminophen) took some of your ability to feel pleasure as collateral damage? That’s the conclusion of a new study from Ohio State University.

We’ve known for a while that as well as physical pain, paracetamol can help alleviate emotional pain, but it now appears that rather than being an elixir for bad ills, it actually works by dampening all feelings.

“Rather than just being a pain reliever, acetaminophen can be seen as an all-purpose emotion reliever,” said Geoffrey Durso, a social psychologist from the university.

How do you test for something like this? Researchers gathered 82 students, and fed them either a 1,000mg dosage of acetaminophen or a placebo. After the drugs had time to kick in – or not in the case of the placebo – subjects were shown a series of 40 photographs designed to trigger emotional reactions. The whole spectrum of human emotion was represented from kittens to emaciated children – an emotional rollercoaster for the participants.

Though it turned out, more of a rollercoaster for those who took the placebo. On average, their reactions to the pictures were more intense than those doped up on painkillers. This applied both to the happy and sad pictures, so they weren’t just immune to cute cat photos.

It’s important not to overstate the findings, though. While a 1,000mg dosage is enough to deal with a headache completely, researchers discovered a much more modest effect on emotions, with those taking the placebo registering an average of 6.76/10 emotional response to images, compared to the paracetamol users’ 5.85.

To be honest, we feel a bit indifferent to the results of the study – but now we’re not sure if that’s because we just took some painkillers to kick a nasty headache when we started writing or if it’s just not that big a deal. Either way, researchers are intending to do follow-up studies on the likes of ibuprofen and aspirin to see whether they have the same impact, so we’ll have plenty of time to make our minds up with a clear head.

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