Sunday, July 02, 2017

Acetaminophen and Existential Angst

Acetaminophen is also more accepted in that we don't think of Tylenol as a medication that alters a person's mental state. People can take it and still drive a car and go to work and remain fully present beings. But the more it's studied, the more it seems we may be overlooking subtle cognitive effects. In 2009, research showed that acetaminophen seemed to dull the pain of social rejection -- sort of like alcohol or Xanax. The author of that study, Nathan DeWall at the University of Kentucky, said at that time,
"Social pain, such as chronic loneliness, damages health as much as smoking and obesity."

New research this week found that Tylenol altered the way subjects passed moral judgments. Psychologists used that as a proxy measure for personal distress, a relationship that has been previously demonstrated.

More plainly, "Physical pain and social rejection share a neural process and subjective component that are experienced as distress." That neural process has been traced to the same part of the brain. They figure that if you blunt one, you blunt both. As they told LiveScience, "When people feel overwhelmed with uncertainty in life or distressed by a lack of purpose, what they're feeling may actually be painful distress ... We think that Tylenol is blocking existential unease in the same way it prevents pain, because a similar neurological process is responsible for both types of distress."