Interesting Tylenol Study
“Have you taken any Tylenol (acetaminophen) today?”, I asked Daniel. Not having any pain or fever, he was surprised. But acetaminophen has some other interesting effects on people.
Once they have you in the net for jury duty, it’s hard to escape. So Daniel, my #3 child, got the call to jury duty in Denver. His invitation came to our house, but Daniel now lives about ten miles away in Englewood, Colorado; a different city and a different county. So he’s expecting that he’s going to get released by the Denver court. Instead, they sent him over to his own Arapahoe County to serve on a jury.
And that’s when I asked, “Have you taken any Tylenol today?”
It’s common to assume that drugs have only the effects that we expect them to have.
Not always true. For acetaminophen, that would be pain relief and bringing down a fever. But drugs can have additional effects, some of which are called “off-label” because those uses are not (yet) approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Rarely, drugs will produce highly unusual “idiosyncratic” effects in an individual which are not experienced by others. Some effects can occur in many folks taking a drug and are just plain interesting.
A 2013 article in The Atlantic, “What’s Tylenol Doing To Our Minds?”, describes some unusual effects of Tylenol. Acetaminophen is a pain reliever. Although we associate acetaminophen with relief of physical pain, it apparently can have effects on psychological pain as well. In psychological studies, this can alter the way that individuals pass moral judgment and the penalties that they would assess to others for breaking the law.
In a study published by Daniel Randle of the University of British Columbia, test subjects received either inactive tablets or 2 Extra-Strength Tylenol tablets prior to completing a task that created psychological stress. They were then asked how much they would require to set bail for a hypothetical person arrested for prostitution or for people arrested in a hypothetical hockey riot.
In each study, participants who had taken Tylenol imposed lighter sentences for those convicted of crimes. In setting bail for the hypothetical person arrested for prostitution, the control group asked for $450 bail, while the Tylenol-treated jurors asked for only $300 bail.
While not a large study, it certainly makes you think. My mom takes Tylenol to help her get to sleep; maybe this helps explain its effectiveness. Not all jurors will be experiencing psychological pain, but if you unfortunate enough to be on the wrong end of a trial it would appear that having Tylenol available in the jury chambers would not do you any harm and might lower your fine or sentence by about a third. Perhaps Tylenol or acetaminophen may just help some people feel better.
Daniel was the last one chosen for the jury pool, but was released without serving on the trial jury. He’s free until the next time his number is drawn and we’re left thinking about acetaminophen.
You can talk to your prescriber or pharmacist about medications, although they might not be aware of this possible effect of acetaminophen since it is in the psychology literature rather than the medical literature.
Your prescriber or pharmacist will warn you to use Tylenol safely. I’ll write more about that – acetaminophen safety – in another blog.