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World’s most common painkiller increases risk-taking behavior, according to wild new study

World’s most common painkiller increases risk-taking behavior, according to wild new study
Researchers at Ohio State University have found that the most commonly taken painkiller worldwide, Acetaminophen, aka Tylenol and Panadol, increases risk-taking in users, which may have drastic public health consequences.

The researchers now believe that the drug’s effects extend beyond physiological pain relief and may in fact influence psychological processes. 

Building on their existing research which indicated Acetaminophen can lower sensitivity to hurt feelings, reduce distress over another’s suffering, and blunt normal cognitive function to varying degrees. 

“Acetaminophen seems to make people feel less negative emotion when they consider risky activities – they just don’t feel as scared,” says neuroscientist Baldwin Way from the Ohio State University.

The latest research suggests that the drug might alter human perception and evaluation of risk. In a series of experiments involving over 500 university students, Way and his team tested how the maximum daily adult dosage of 1,000 mg affected participants’ risk-taking behavior with placebos given to a control group.

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The participants were asked to pump up a digital balloon on a computer, with each pump earning digital currency. They were asked to earn as much money as possible without bursting the balloon, which would lose them money. 

Students who took acetaminophen were far less risk averse and less cautious than the conservative placebo group, pumping and bursting their balloons at a higher rate. 

The participants were also required to fill out surveys rating their perceived level of risk when presented with various hypothetical scenarios such as betting a day’s wages on sports, starting a new career in your mid-30s, bungee jumping, or “speaking your mind about an unpopular issue in a meeting at work.”

“With nearly 25 percent of the population in the US taking acetaminophen each week, reduced risk perceptions and increased risk-taking could have important effects on society.”

Based on the average results between the balloon tests and surveys conducted, the researchers found a significant relationship between acetaminophen and risk-taking behavior, but called for additional research on the underlying biological mechanisms behind acetaminophen’s effects.

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However, the team also concedes that, in addition to the study being somewhat limited in size, there may be other mitigating factors and interpretations of their experiments.

Regardless, as the most common drug ingredient in America, contained in over 600 over-the-counter and prescription medications in addition to its designation as an essential medicine by the World Health Organization, Acetaminophen’s possible impact on risk-taking behavior is worthy of additional study for more immediate and important reasons. 

The drug is recommended treatment by the CDC for initial Covid-19 symptoms, which may impact people’s decision-making while they are supposed to be at home self-isolating, potentially making them more likely to breach quarantine and risk infecting others.

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