The over-the-counter pain drug Tylenol (also known as paracetamol) may have effects beyond relieving physical pain, with a new University of British Columbia study suggesting it may also reduce the psychological effects of fear and anxiety.
"Pain exists in many forms, including the distress that people feel when exposed to thoughts of existential uncertainty and death," said the study's lead author Daniel Randles. "Our study suggests these anxieties may be processed as 'pain' by the brain - but Tylenol seems to inhibit the signal telling the brain that something is wrong."
The study builds on other research that found acetaminophen - the active ingredient - can successfully reduce the non-physical pain of being ostracized from friends. The UBC team sought to determine whether the drug had similar effects on other unpleasant experiences - in this case, existential dread.
In the study, participants took acetaminophen or a placebo while performing tasks designed to evoke this kind of anxiety. Compared to a placebo group, the researchers found the people taking acetaminophen were significantly better able to cope with troubling ideas. The results suggest that participants' existential suffering was "treated" by the headache drug.
"That a drug used primarily to alleviate headaches may also numb people to the worry of thoughts of their deaths... is a surprising and very interesting finding," said Randles. He cautions that while the findings suggest that acetaminophen can help to reduce anxiety, further research must occur before it could be considered an effective treatment for anxiety.
Discuss this article in our forum
Tylenol during early pregnancy?
Paracetamol Use Appears To Protect Against Ovarian Cancer
Source: University of British Columbia