However, all medications have side effects and painkillers are no exception. In fact, some recent studies have shown that a particular sedative, known as paracetamol, in addition to eliminating pain can also have a negative effect on our emotions.
It began selling this drug in 1955 and its popularity has grown to such an extent that today it is the best-selling generic drug in the world. In fact, did you know that its active ingredient is present in about 600 different drugs?
The interesting fact is that paracetamol is well regarded in our society, it is an accepted remedy for relieving pain, because, unlike drugs, it is not addictive and should not affect our mental state. However, it seems that this is not the case.
Paracetamol causes a flattening of emotions
Ohio State University researchers recruited 167 volunteers to subject them to an experiment; half of these consumed 1.000 mg of acetaminophen, a regular amount equivalent to two 500-mg pills (the maximum dose for adults is 4.000 mg per day). The other half of the sample was given a placebo.
The researchers waited an hour for the drug to take effect. Then they asked people to complete a test. While looking at a series of carefully selected photos previously selected to stimulate positive and negative emotions, people had to indicate the emotional impact these images had on them.
In this way it was observed that people who had taken paracetamol exhibited a kind of emotional numbness. In other words, their emotions had lost intensity, compared to the group given a placebo.
When these people looked at images that were supposed to trigger emotions like joy and happiness, the result was well below average. Although when asked if they thought they were suffering from emotional conditioning, everyone replied that they did not notice any changes.
Researchers are convinced that acetaminophen and other similar pain relievers can affect our ability to perceive emotions and react to situations with affective value. However, this is not the only experiment this drug has been subjected to.
Neither sad nor happy, but lots of emotionless zombies
A few years ago, researchers at the University of Kentucky found that acetaminophen was not only effective in fighting physical pain but also mental suffering, particularly that produced by social rejection.
In this case, they recruited 62 people, some of whom took paracetamol as in the previous case, and others a placebo. Each day, people would have to complete a scale that assessed the pain they experienced as a result of events that occurred during the day, the kind of pain caused by social rejection, such as in the case of pranks.
Interestingly, as the days went by, people taking acetaminophen indicated less psychological pain. However, these people would also be expected to report higher levels of life satisfaction or greater happiness. But this was not the case, indicating that the drug only dulls emotions, both negative and positive.
In fact, these researchers were so surprised by these results that they decided to repeat the experiment. After three weeks of paracetamol treatment, people were involved in a computer game in which social rejection and the resulting pain were produced.
As people played, their brains were analyzed. Thus it could be observed that those taking paracetamol also showed less activation in the areas of the brain related to social rejection and distress. Therefore, the direct impact of paracetamol on the brain mechanism linked to the processing of emotions was confirmed.
Perhaps the most interesting experiment of all was conducted at the University of British Columbia in Canada. The researchers recruited 120 people, some of whom took acetaminophen, and others a placebo. Some were asked to write about their death while others about a visit to the dentist. Subsequently, everyone had to establish a bail to free a person who had committed a crime.
As expected, those who took the placebo and reported their deaths set a higher bail ($ 450), while those who wrote about the dentist's visit averaged a lower deposit ($ 300). This difference is due to the existential anguish caused by the thought of death, which has triggered feelings of frustration and anxiety much more intense than the memory of a visit to the dentist can generate. Obviously, those feelings influence our moral judgment and decisions.
But the interesting fact is that people who take acetaminophen don't notice the difference. Their moral sensitivity has not changed, indicating that a stimulus as strong as the thought of death does not arouse particularly intense emotions.
At first glance, these results might even seem positive. In fact, there will likely be more than one who feels tempted to take an acetaminophen tablet to dull their emotions. But getting rid of our emotions and feelings can be very dangerous.
The irreplaceable role of emotions
It is true that some emotions, especially negative ones, such as anger or sadness, make us feel bad. Still, emotions play an important adaptive role. Our primitive brain, which is responsible for keeping us safe, communicates with us through emotions.
Thus, when we are in danger, it activates emotions such as fear that prompts us to flee, and when something pleases us, it activates emotions such as joy, to indicate that this activity makes us feel good and is good for our health.
The primitive brain is a sentinel of our life and communicates with us through emotions. It records all experiences, with their respective emotional imprints, and therefore allows us not to repeat the same mistake, avoiding suffering. Therefore, even if sometimes emotions overwhelm us and can represent a problem when deciding rationally, if we put them on a scale, the benefits they can bring us are greater.
In fact, people who suffer from numbness or anhedonia, caused by drugs or diseases, such as psychosis, tend to have suicidal thoughts and do not find the meaning of life. But a life in which the hope of happiness, pleasure and joy is lost is truly a meaningless life.
So, before taking any medication, ask yourself if you really need it. The side effects could be much more negative than people realize.