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Pain reliever used by 25% of Americans is found to alter user’s perception of risk, study reveals 

Acetaminophen, also known as paracetamol, is a medication commonly used to treat pain and fever, but a new discovery suggests it could have implications on society.

Researchers found that acetaminophen, the main ingredient in Tylenol, which is taken by nearly 25 percent of the US population, alters perception of risk by making certain activities seem less dangerous.

Participants of a new study ingested two tablets (1,000 mg) of the drug or a placebo and were asked to rate certain activities based on risk.

Those under the influence of the acetaminophen rated activities like bungee jumping, skydiving or starting a new career in your mid-30s as less risky than those who took the placebo.

Researchers involved in the experiment note that acetaminophen was pushed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a way to treat initial coronavirus symptoms, and suggests those with a mild case may not have seen leaving their home as a risk – thus spreading the virus to others. 

The study, conducted by The Ohio State University, builds on a previous work that determined acetaminophen impacts the user’s psychosis, as it was found to reduce positive and negative emotions, such as hurt feelings, concern of other’s suffering and even their own joy.

Baldwin Way, co-author of the study and associate professor of psychology at The Ohio State University, said: ‘Acetaminophen seems to make people feel less negative emotion when they consider risky activities — they just don’t feel as scared.’

‘With nearly 25 percent of the population in the U.S. taking acetaminophen each week, reduced risk perceptions and increased risk-taking could have important effects on society.’

The study recruited 189 collect students who were given either 1,000 mg of the drug or a placebo that looked exactly the same – this group was told it was acetaminophen prior to ingesting it.

After the drug took effect, volunteers were asked to complete a survey that ranked certain activities based on risk.

Results showed that those under the influence of acetaminophen rated activities like bungee jumping, walking home alone at night in an unsafe area of town, starting a new career in your mid-30s, and taking a skydiving class as less risky than those who took the placebo.

The effects of acetaminophen on risk-taking were also tested in three separate experimental studies.

For one of the studies, 545 undergraduate students were also given doses of acetaminophen before participating in a number of tasks that measure risk-taking behavior. 

These exercises have been used to predict behaviors such as using alcohol and drugs, along stealing and driving without a seat belt.

The volunteers were asked to click a button that inflated a balloon on a computer screen and each time it inflated, the individual received virtual money.

However, they were allowed stop at any time and add the money to their ‘bank,’ and move on to the next balloon -but there is risk involved.

‘As you’re pumping the balloon, it is getting bigger and bigger on your computer screen, and you’re earning more money with each pump,’ Way said.

‘But as it gets bigger you have this decision to make: Should I keep pumping and see if I can make more money, knowing that if it bursts I lose the money I had made with that balloon?’

The results mimicked those of the previous study – those who took acetaminophen kept on pumping.

Results showed that those on the drug pumped more times than those on the placebo and had more burst balloons.

‘If you’re risk-averse, you may pump a few times and then decide to cash out because you don’t want the balloon to burst and lose your money,’ said Way.

‘But for those who are on acetaminophen, as the balloon gets bigger, we believe they have less anxiety and less negative emotion about how big the balloon is getting and the possibility of it bursting.’

The results have a variety of real-life implications, Way said.

For example, acetaminophen is the recommended treatment by the CDC for initial coronvirus symptoms.

‘Perhaps someone with mild COVID-19 symptoms may not think it is as risky to leave their house and meet with people if they’re taking acetaminophen,’ Way said. 

‘We really need more research on the effects of acetaminophen and other over-the-counter drugs on the choices and risks we take,’ he said.

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