Painkillers not only can relieve one’s physical symptoms, but may also have psychological effects, new research suggests.
Researchers from the University of California found that taking common painkillers like ibuprofen and paracetamol might blunt one’s sensitivity to emotionally painful experiences and ability to process information.
The findings, published in the journal Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, were concluded on the basis of existing research.
In one study, cited in the review, women who took ibuprofen reported “less hurt feelings” than those taking placebos when excluded from a game or writing about a time when they were betrayed.
They also found that the pills influenced their ability to empathize with the pain of others.
Compared to those taking placebos, people who took a dose of paracetamol were less emotionally distressed while reading about a person experiencing physical or emotional pain and felt less regard for the person.
The painkillers could also affect one’s ability to process information, according to the findings.
People who took paracetamol made more errors of omission during a task than those who did not take the drug, for example.
The authors of the review described the results as “alarming,” yet they emphasized that further studies are necessary to see how these doses might interfere with prescription medications for anxiety and depression, which would influence how policymakers regulate them.