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Many of us absentmindedly reach for the Tylenol for the most routine instances of minor physical pain. A headache, a muscle strain, aching joints, or menstrual pain — all of these things can send us in search of quick, over-the-counter relief. We seldom consider how these inexpensive, readily available medications can affect our mental health.
Scientists are only beginning to uncover some unexpected side effects of Tylenol. Some of these unintended outcomes are pleasant. A 2013 study revealed how Tylenol can reduce anxiety in addition to halting symptoms of physical pain. That study presented mostly positive results, unless one considers the absence of anxiety (or any other type of psychological pain) to be a bad thing.
A brand new study digs even further into the emotional side effects of taking Tylenol. Scientists at Ohio University set out to prove that acetaminophen not only dulls negative emotions like anxiety, but positive ones as well.
Here’s what happened: Researchers gathered up enough subjects for two separate studies. One group took 1000 milligrams of Tylenol at one sitting while the other group swallowed a placebo pill. Both groups were shown a series of 40 photographs, some of which were quite disturbing (including photos of malnourished humans) and others that were very pleasant (such as frolicking kittens and playful children). All participants were asked to give input on the photos and rate them on a 1-10 scale (with negative feelings rating on the low end). Across the board, the group who took the Tylenol reflected muted emotions on both the positive and negative spectrums. These participants also weren’t aware of their altered emotional state until after the study concluded.
These results may sound a bit terrifying because, in effect, Tylenol functions as a numbing agent of both physical and emotional sensations. Lead author Geoffrey Durso begs to differ. He sees great promise in this conclusion: “This means that using Tylenol or similar products might have broader consequences than previously thought. Rather than just being a pain reliever, acetaminophen can be seen as an all-purpose emotion reliever.”
Next up: Durso and his team plan to move onto other pain-relieving drugs like ibuprofen and aspirin to see if similar results materialize. His researchers hope to ultimately prove a chemical connection between pleasure and pain. This may sound like a strange end goal for a study that induces apathy via acetaminophen, but Durso promises, “There is accumulating evidence that some people are more sensitive to big life events of all kinds, rather than just vulnerable to bad events.”
Source: Psychological Science