Node Smith, ND

OTC Pain Medications and Their Effects on Information Processing and Emotional Response

A recent research study looks at the negative influence over the counter pain medications may have on information processing and emotional response.1 Painkillers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen were seen to impact how an individual processes information, experiences hurt feelings, and reacts to images and contexts which are emotionally charged.

This Information is Concerning

The authors of this study looked at past research of how over the counter pain medication may affect an individual’s psychology. This information is concerning because many people utilize over the counter medications for pain under the assumption that it is completely safe, and that there will be no mood, personality, or other psychological side effects.

The research suggests that over the counter painkillers may have the following influences:

  • Decreases in emotional sensitivity –An emotional dullness has been noted in women taking ibuprofen compared with those who took placebo. They reported feeling less hurt feelings from painful emotionally painful experiences. Men showed the opposite pattern.
  • Decreased empathy – Compared with individuals taking a dose of placebo, those who took acetaminophen showed less emotional distress when reading about the painful experiences of others, along with less regard for the person read about.
  • Decreased processing ability –In a game where people were asked at different times to either perform or not perform a task, those who had taken a dose of acetaminophen made more errors of omission than those who took placebo.
  • Decreased emotional reactivity –People rated pleasant and unpleasant photos less extremely after taking a dose of acetaminophen than placebo.
  • Decreased attachment –When individuals were asked to create a price they would sell an object for that they owned, those who had taken a dose of acetaminophen set cheaper prices than those who took placebos.

This meta-analysis has been published in Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences.


  1. Ratner et al. Can Over-the-Counter Pain Medications Influence Our Thoughts and Emotions? Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 2018
Image Copyright: <a href=’’>kwangmoo / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Node Smith, ND, is a naturopathic physician in Portland, OR and associate editor for NDNR. He has been instrumental in maintaining a firm connection to the philosophy and heritage of naturopathic medicine among the next generation of docs. He helped found the first multi-generational experiential retreat, which brings elders, alumni, and students together for a weekend camp-out where naturopathic medicine and medical philosophy are experienced in nature. Four years ago he helped found the non-profit, Association for Naturopathic ReVitalization (ANR), for which he serves as the board chairman. ANR has a mission to inspire health practitioners to embody the naturopathic principles through experiential education. Node also has a firm belief that the next era of naturopathic medicine will see a resurgence of in-patient facilities which use fasting, earthing, hydrotherapy and homeopathy to bring people back from chronic diseases of modern living; he is involved in numerous conversations and projects to bring about this vision.

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