Paracetamol is a medicine that most people have in their personal medicine cabinet and which is not uncommon to use when pain or fever appears. This analgesic is so common that it has become one of the best-selling active medicine all over the World, however, if used in an abusive manner can have negative consequences for health. A new study has discovered one of its previously unknown harmful effects.
A study by the University of Ohio, USA, has shown that while a person consumes this medicine his positive empathy towards others is limited. In the study, “A social analgesic? Paracetamol reduces positive empathy,” 114 people participated. They received 1,000 milligrams of acetaminophen — another name for acetaminophen — or placebo. The experiment, conducted by visiting assistant professor Dominik Mischkowski, was double-blind, that is, neither the study coordinators nor the participants knew whether they were being given the drug or the placebo.
One hour after ingestion, participants had to observe four scenarios in which two men and two women were having a positive experience. While observing, the participants had to assess how positive they felt the scenarios were, how much pleasure they thought those in it were experiencing, how much pleasure the participants experienced in knowing these scenarios, and how much empathy they felt for the people on the stage.
The study found that while paracetamol reduced personal pleasure and feelings of empathy, it has no effect on perceptions of pleasure and positivity. “I’m still surprised by the striking psychological effects of an analgesic as common as paracetamol,” Mischkowski said. “However, according to previous research, we expect the drug to reduce not only empathy for pain but also empathy for pleasure. It’s good that it came out that way.
This is not the first time Mischkowski has looked at acetaminophen and its effects. In 2016, the scientist published another study. “We did the original study to test how pharmacological reduction of pain responsiveness (through acetaminophen) also reduces the ability of others to respond to pain,” he said.
Risks of paracetamol abuse
Paracetamol is an analgesic and antipyretic that is indicated above all for headaches, mild and moderate fevers or malaise in general. Its efficacy has not been proven either in the treatment of influenza or in the treatment of back pain, according to different studies.
Paracetamol is safe and effective in its recommended dose, which should not exceed 4 grams per day. One of the main risks of abusing this drug too much or not using it responsibly is that it can cause liver problems. Since last February, this 1 gram medicine can no longer be bought without a prescription.