Science

Paracetamol stimulates risk-taking, can impair cognitive functions: Study

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on September 10, 2020

According to a new study reported in Science Alert, the widely used drug acetaminophen, also known as paracetamol, which cures headache, weakness and fatigue, can also stimulate risk-taking behaviour.

The paracetamol sold under the brands Tylenol and Panadol can influence behavioural patterns, it said.

Neuroscientist Baldwin Way from Ohio State University said in the study: "Acetaminophen seems to make people feel less negative emotion when they consider risky activities – they just don't feel as scared."

He added: "With nearly 25 per cent of the population in the US taking acetaminophen each week, reduced risk perceptions and increased risk-taking could have important effects on society."

This study corroborates one conducted by a team of researchers to examine the effects of these drugs on pain reduction. The scientists in the earlier study maintained that the drugs lower people’s receptivity to feelings, reduce empathy, and hamper cognitive functions.

The recent study indicated that these drugs can impair people's ability to perceive and evaluate risks.

For the study, researchers examined more than 500 university students to see how a single 1,000 mg dose of acetaminophen impacted their risk-taking behaviour, compared to another placebo group.

The researchers asked participants to inflate balloons to earn imaginary money. If the balloon popped, they would lose the money. Researchers noticed that students who took the drug were willing to take more risks than those who belonged to the cautious placebo group.

"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," Way said in the study.

"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," he added.

To confirm the effect of drugs, researchers asked participants about other hypothetical scenarios. This includes betting a day's income on a sporting event, bungee jumping off a tall bridge, or driving a car without a seatbelt.

Based on the average result of the various tests, the team arrived at the conclusion that there is a strong relationship between taking acetaminophen and choosing more risk, even if the observed effect can be very evident.

Published on September 10, 2020

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