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World's Most Common Painkiller Makes You Take More Risks, Study Says

People are more likely to go skydiving or bungee jumping thanks to this active ingredient.

When you have a simple headache you usually go and find a painkiller such as paracetamol, also known as acetaminophen. What you may not know is that paracetamol not only gets rid of your headache but it also increases the chances of you partaking in risky behaviour. 

A new study carried out by researchers at Ohio State University discovered the news about the over-the-counter medicine. 

The study was published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience at the end of July.

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No pain, no panic

"Acetaminophen seems to make people feel less negative emotion when they consider risky activities – they just don't feel as scared," said Baldwin Way, co-author of the study and associate professor of psychology at the Ohio State University.

So these people are more keen to take part in activities such as bungee jumping, or to join in a conversation about an unpopular opinion during a meeting at work, per the study.

Once acetaminophen has been ingested, the person's decisions about risk taking revolve around a number of reasons, all linked to taking the drug: it lowers their feelings of being hurt, they have less empathy, and their cognitive functions get blunted. 

The research did point out, however, that the effects were minimal, but still notable. Something to be considered given that over 600 different over-the-counter medicines have the active substance in them, and it's the most common drug ingredient in the U.S.

As Way explained "With nearly 25 percent of the population in the U.S. taking acetaminophen each week, reduced risk perceptions and increased risk-taking could have important effects on society."

The team uncovered this information by conducting an experiment involving 500 participants. The team measured the effects of a 1,000 mg dose (the recommended dosage for adults) acetaminophen on those that were given the drug randomly, compared to those that had been given a placebo. 

In order to test the method, participants were given a balloon and told that each inflation would bring them more imaginary money. It turned out that those that had taken the placebos were faster to stop pumping the balloon in case it burst, while those that had taken the drug pumped it more, taking more risks. 

Participants were also asked questions through a survey including hypothetical ones such as how willing they were to go bungee jumping off of a high bridge, or if they would bet their income on a sporting event such as horse racing. 

Again, those that had taken the drug were more prone to take risks.

The Ohio State University team stresses that this information should be taken into account when future research involves acetaminophen. 

And the researchers point out that even though their findings are significant, paracetamol remains the most commonly-used drug ingredient around the world. It is also considered to be essential by the World Health Organization, as well as recommended by the CDC.

 

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