Can over-the-counter pain meds influence thoughts and emotions?

Over-the-counter pain medicine such as Ibuprofen and acetaminophen may influence how people process information, experience hurt feelings, and react to emotionally evocative images, according to recent studies.

A new article is out today in Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, a Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences (FABBS) journal, examines these findings and how policymakers should respond.

The authors of the article reviewed previous research suggesting that over-the-counter pain medicine may influence individuals:

  • Sensitivity to emotionally painful experiences: Compared to those who took placebos, women who took a dose of ibuprofen reported less hurt feelings from emotionally painful experiences, such as being excluded from a game or writing about a time when they were betrayed. Men showed the opposite pattern.
  • Ability to empathize with the pain of others: Compared to those taking placebos, individuals who took a dose of acetaminophen were less emotionally distressed while reading about a person experiencing physical or emotional pain and felt less regard for the person.
  • Ability to process information: Compared to those who took placebos, individuals who took a dose of acetaminophen made more errors of omission in a game where they were asked, at various times, either to perform or to not perform a task.
  • Reactions to emotional objects: Individuals who took a dose of acetaminophen rated pleasant and unpleasant photographs less extremely than those who took placebos.
    Discomfort from parting with possessions: When asked to set a selling price on an object they owned, individuals who took a dose of acetaminophen set prices that were cheaper than the prices set by individuals who took placebos.

“In many ways, the reviewed findings are alarming,” wrote Ratner et al. “Consumers assume that when they take an over-the-counter pain medication, it will relieve their physical symptoms, but they do not anticipate broader psychological effects.”

The authors also say that more research is needed to examine the efficacy and determine if it would have negative effects for people who take it in combination with other medicines or who are depressed and have difficulty feeling pleasure.

Further studies are necessary before policymakers consider new regulations or policies, the authors recommend for policymakers to begin to think about potential public health risks and benefits in case preliminary studies are confirmed.

Source Eurekalert

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