Researchers from Ohio State University have found that the common painkiller, paracetamol ( also known as Tylenol and Panadol), may increase risk-taking behaviors in people who take it.
For the study, the researchers recruited over 500 university students. They then selected them at random to receive either a 1,000 mg dose of paracetamol (the maximum recommended single dosage for adults) or a placebo.
Afterward, the students were asked to inflate a balloon using a pump on a computer screen, with each extra pump earning virtual money. They were instructed to earn as much money as possible, and as such, inflate the balloons as much as possible. Would the balloon pop, however, they were told that they would lose the money.
In the end, the researchers found that students who took a dose of paracetamol tended to be more risk-taking during the exercise, pumping the balloon more actively than those in the placebo group. As such, they were also more likely to burst their balloons than those on the placebo.
Aside from the balloon experiment, the participants also filled in surveys rating their level of perceived risk in various scenarios, such as betting a day's income on a sporting event or driving a car without a seatbelt. While paracetamol consumption seemed to influence risk perception in one survey, in another, it seemed to have little effect.
Despite this, taking all the results into account together, the researchers concluded that paracetamol consumption could lead to more risk-taking behavior, likely by reducing levels of anxiety. As such, they say that public health officials should bear the drug's effect on behavior in mind before making health recommendations.
"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," says Baldwin Way, lead author of the study. "We really need more research on the effects of acetaminophen and other over-the-counter drugs on the choices and risks we take."