New research suggests that paracetamol — the generic name for Panadol — could help people overcome anxiety about existential fears of death. The research, carried out at the University of British Columbia and published in the journal Psychological Science, reports that paracetamol could provide interesting psychological effects that have previously been overlooked.
The work was inspired by a previous finding, which suggested that paracetamol (known as acetaminophen or Tylenol in North America) can reduce the non-physical pain of being socially ostracised. So, a team led by Daniel Randles decided to assess whether the drug had an effect on more general existential fears. They carried out a double-blind trial, where one arm was given a placebo and the other given paracetamol. Within each arm of the study, half of participants were asked to write something about what would happen to their body when they were dead, and the other half something about having dental pain. Then, everybody was asked to read about the arrest of a prostitute — and set the amount required for her bail.
In the placebo group, bail was much higher among those who had written about their own death; in the paracetamol group, bail was comparable across all participants. That suggests that some form of internalised suffering was attenuated by taking paracetamol. The results were confirmed in a second set of experiments which measured participants' judgement of rioters at a hockey game. Randle explains to Psych Central:
"Pain exists in many forms, including the distress that people feel when exposed to thoughts of existential uncertainty and death. Our study suggests these anxieties may be processed as ‘pain' by the brain — but Tylenol seems to inhibit the signal telling the brain that something is wrong."
Clearly, the implications of the work could be far-reaching: it's clear, for instance, that the findings could easily generalise to ease existential more general fears and anxieties. That could be a massive boon for people who suffer from chronic anxiety — as it may finally shed some light on their condition. But before you rush out to the pharmacy, it's worth noting that the researchers insist that more research — and properly conducted clinical trials — be carried out before people start using paracetamol to treat anxiety. [Psychological Science via Psych Central]
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