Can Tylenol Help Reduce Anxiety? – Quartz

Tylenol’s active drug, acetaminophen, is one of the best drugs we have available to help people with pain. It is also one of the most frequently overdosed substances in the world and puts approximately 60,000 Americans in hospital each year. In the United States, several hundred people will die in 2013 from liver failure after an overdose of acetaminophen.

Tylenol is not addicting like narcotics, and children do not take it to get high, giving it an air of caring and social acceptance that is not offered otherwise in many pain relievers. However, when people overdose on pills like Vicodin or Percocet, which contain acetaminophen, it is often this component that does the most damage.

Acetaminophen is also more accepted as we do not believe that Tylenol changes our mental state. People can take it and continue to drive a car and go to work and be fully present beings. But the more it is studied, the more it seems that we forget about the subtle cognitive effects. In 2009, research showed that it seemed alleviate the pain of social rejection – a bit like alcohol or Xanax. The author of that study, Nathan DeWall of the University of Kentucky, said at the time: “Social pain, such as chronic loneliness, is as bad for your health as smoking and obesity.

New research this week found that Tylenol altered the way subjects made moral judgments. Psychologists have used it as an indirect measure of personal distress, a relationship that has already been demonstrated.

Daniel Randles and colleagues at the University of British Columbia write in the diary Psychological sciences, “The Sense Maintenance model postulates that any violation of expectations leads to an emotional experience that motivates the compensatory affirmation. We are exploring whether the neural mechanism that responds to threats to sense can be inhibited by acetaminophen. Totally.

Put simply, “physical pain and social rejection share a neural process and a subjective component that is experienced as distress.” This neural process has been attributed to the same part of the brain. They think if you blunt one, you blunt both. As they says LiveScience, “When people feel overwhelmed by the uncertainty of life or grieved by a lack of purpose, what they feel can actually be painful distress… We think Tylenol blocks existential discomfort in the same way that Tylenol blocks existential discomfort. it prevents pain, because a similar neurological process is responsible for both types of distress.

In this study, Randles’ team gave 120 people either two extra strength Tylenol or a placebo. They then prepared them by having half write about what happens when we die (to invoke or reproduce existential anxiety) and the other half to write about a controlling and non-existential subject (go at the dentist, intended to focus people on concrete topics). things). The reasoning was that “thinking about death is incompatible with everyday thinking… and that it leads to the same anxiety… as frustrated social interactions or perceived incongruities”.

Then everyone was asked how much they would set bail for a hypothetical person arrested for prostitution.

Of those who took the placebo pill, those who wrote about existential anxiety set a much higher bond ($ 450) than those who wrote about the dentist ($ 300). But if they took Tylenol and wrote existentially, that sense of moral judgment seemed to be blunted. They establish the same link regardless of the boot.

Then, in a similar and separate experiment, they prepared the topics by having them watch video clips. They either watched The simpsons or a film by neon-black surrealist writer / director David Lynch, in which humans with bunny heads roam city apartment muttering non sequiturs. They then passed judgment on those arrested in a hockey riot. Again, people in the existential state of mind imposed severe penalties, but the people who watched The simpsons were lenient. If they had taken Tylenol first, however, the anxiety induced by David Lynch was apparently alleviated. They recommended the same penalties as the group started by The Simpsons.

All of this raises more questions than it answers. This study was small. The the titles are grandiose. The way people make moral judgments is not necessarily indicative of their level of existential anxiety. But acetaminophen does seem to affect people’s outlook, further blurring our already complex relationship with drugs.

Like Randles see the value of their findings, “For people who suffer from chronic anxiety or are overly sensitive to uncertainty, this work can shed light on what is happening and how their symptoms might be reduced.”

Even though these changes in judgment are abstract and seemingly for the better, inclining people to benevolence and forgiveness, what other cognitive effects of acetaminophen could we still discover? For the millions of people who take acetaminophen on a semi-regular basis, unaware that it could confuse their value system, as well as for artists whose livelihoods depend on their work citing deep existential angst, the question is not just academic.

This originally appeared on Atlantic. Also on our sister site:

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