Fear death? Pop a Tylenol

Johnson & Johnson's popular pain reliever has been found to reduce 'existential angst' -- that is, if you're watching 'Eraserhead' or pondering prostitutes' bail amounts.

By Aimee Picchi Apr 22, 2013 12:59PM

File photo of Tylenol Extra Strength in Palo Alto, Calif. on Aug. 11, 2010 (© Paul Sakuma/AP)Johnson & Johnson (JNJ) executives wouldn't be blamed for taking some of their own headache medicine, given the government's takeover of three of its Tylenol plants in 2011. 

But now the health care products giant has gotten a bit of bright news. A new report published in Psychological Science found that Tylenol and other medicines with acetaminophen can help alleviate "existential angst."

"Pain extends beyond tissue damage and hurt feelings, and includes the distress and existential angst we feel when we're uncertain or have just experienced something surreal. Regardless of the kind of pain, taking Tylenol seems to inhibit the brain signal that says something is wrong," lead researcher Daniel Randles, a graduate student at the University of British Columbia in Canada, said in a statement.

The study might boost sales of Tylenol if down-in-the-dumps people look for cheap and quick ways to boost their spirits. That could turn the medication into one that's bought by consumers for a secondary reason, such as the way some people pop an aspirin as a heart attack and stroke prevention aid

The study likely comes as a welcome surprise for J&J, which has suffered from a series of setbacks including the Tylenol plants and claims that its DePuy unit defectively designed a metal-on-metal hip implant.

The researchers said their findings "suggest that Tylenol may have more profound psychological effects than previously thought," according to a statement from Psychological Science. 

In a double-blind study, participants took either Tylenol-brand acetaminophen or a sugar-pill placebo. One group was asked to write about what would happen to their bodies after they die (creating existential dread), while the control group was asked to write about experiencing dental pain (unpleasant but not particularly angst-creating). After that, all were asked to read a report about a prostitute then set a bail amount. 

People in the group that took Tylenol were less harsh about the bail amount they would assign the prostitute, the study found. "These results suggest that their existential suffering was 'treated' by the headache drug," the statement said.

A second study group was given the task of watching a "surreal" video by director David Lynch, known for the classic TV series "Twin Peaks" and dark films such as "Eraserhead." 

The group that took Tylenol in that experiment were more lenient about a group of rioters following a hockey game. 

"The new finding is that, if participants had taken Tylenol, this effect (of people who are unsettled or uneasy making harsher judgments) disappeared entirely and they looked just like the control group that hadn't talked about their death or watched the unpleasant (film) clip," Randles told the Toronto Star

Follow Aimee Picchi on Twitter at @aimeepicchi. 

More on moneyNOW

Apr 22, 2013 3:58PM
What happens to one's liver when they use tylenol for depression. I think liver disease is worse than depression.
I hope the American public does not interpret this research incorrectly. Tylenol is not a cure for a bad day. The overuse of Tylenol can cause ACUTE LIVER FAILURE.

" Acute liver failure (ALF) is a dramatic and highly unpredictable clinical syndrome defined by the sudden onset of coagulopathy and encephalopathy. Although many disease processes can cause ALF, acetaminophen overdose is the leading cause in the United States" The National Institute of Health  

For the safety of yourself and loved ones, take over the counter medicines only when needed and only as directed. 

Apr 22, 2013 4:26PM

The government"t did not "take over" J&J's plants.   The plants remain 100% in the hands of their owners, but the FDA is monitoring quality because the plants' operator had serious issues.


Safety inspections are not "takeovers."  They are a fact of life and they keep our families safe.


I'm sure wish all wish that EPA had had a safety inspection in West, Texas.


Please issue a correction and be more careful with words in the future.



Apr 22, 2013 2:30PM
Because of Rheumatoid Arthritis and the fact that I take NSAID's since 1981..., the Rheumatologist
told me if I needed anything for other pain to only take ACETAMINOPHEN so I have...  However I have not taken the Highly Expensive J&J TYLENOL but have bought OTC GENERICS..., mainly PERRIGO or made for PERRIGO for the over 30 years...  To me Acetaminophen is Acetaminophen and I have always gotten results from the OTC Brands...  I don't believe I ever suffered Existential Angst but if it has helped as I have grown older that is Great...!!

Apr 22, 2013 3:15PM
Great now the druggies will be stockpiling Tylenol to get rid of depression.  Next thing you know you'll have to have a prescription for it.
Apr 22, 2013 4:06PM
I just took some Tylenol and I dont feel jack_____.
Apr 22, 2013 4:31PM

Sounds like a stupid stunt put on by J&J to boost sale of their stock. Why does it have to be a specific brand? A serious study would have them studying acetaminophen regardless of manufacturer. No, sorry, but I'm not buying this crock at all.

Apr 22, 2013 4:47PM
Apr 22, 2013 5:01PM
Then if a juror takes tylenol during deliberations it could effect the outcome of their decisions, especially during the punishment phase? 
Apr 22, 2013 5:02PM

We need pot pills.  More effective and natural.

Apr 22, 2013 2:09PM
A double-bind study? How does that work? Or is your editor bind?
Apr 22, 2013 4:36PM
what a freakin' joke. why don't they make pills out of flour and call it an antidepressant? just goes to show the level of intelligence in this country.
Apr 22, 2013 4:48PM

Tylenol has always made me sick to my stomach.  I have friends who suffer severely from depression its sad to see them withering away.  I SERIOUSLY doubt an aspirin wouldhelp them.


Tylenol must be dropping out of hte stock market and needs a boost in sales. 

Apr 22, 2013 5:37PM
i wonder if johnson & johnson funded that study? sounds like someone has too much time and money to waste. i've read to the end, nobody get's out alive.
Apr 22, 2013 5:44PM
I've seen pople who can name almost every pill known to man, and probably some not known.  They whine.  They complain.  Some go get surgery, even when not needed.  They whine, they lay around, they talk about how they "didn't think they would make it through the night." and they keep on taking the FDA junk. Some night, they won't make it through.  Oh, well. it will be less whining, less complaining.  And, the FDA will have ten more to take their place.
Apr 22, 2013 4:44PM
If it's so good why would experts say this?  "In 2009, a group of experts called the Acetaminophen Hepatotoxicity Working Group (hepatotoxicity means liver poisoning) made several recommendations to the FDA that would tighten up the rules for acetaminophen. As of July 2009, the FDA hadn’t decided which, if any, of the recommendations to implement, but some changes are likely." - According to health.harvard.edu
Apr 22, 2013 5:50PM

Wake up folks.


It's not just Tylenol that may or may not cause liver disease (Many prescription drugs do much the same.)


The active ingredient (acetaminophen) in Tylenol is the culprit.


However, this is the active ingredient in all over the counter pain relievers on the market today that are safe for people who are on blood thinners. The list includes store brand products such as Walmart's Equate brand of Tylenol type pain relievers and many more brands.

Apr 22, 2013 6:39PM
The drug company needed to boost its sales.  Thats why this article was written.
Apr 22, 2013 6:43PM
Sure, just a few months ago, the experts were warning folks about acetaminophen, Tylenol, would destroy the liver. They say it makes you feel like existing and that nothings wrong, folks if something's wrong with you, why would you want to take a pill that shuts off that part of the brain signals. Talk about screwed up research, one day it's wonderful, the next, it's toxic.
Apr 22, 2013 5:30PM
I'm sure there are millions in another dimension that feared death not a bit as they were taking not just Tylenol but endless FDA (Future Destruction of America, here today) junk so-called "medicines." We all know of some of the victims.  The legal drug lords are almost never blamed and some are "thanked" for the "care" they gave someone's loved one.  We know those who "OD'ed".  We hear the talk, but the legal drug lords continue to go free.  We know of those who stuffer when you talk to them on the phone.  We know what is going on, but it is all legal.  We know those who have lost jobs and are too embarrased to tell the truth. How much does just one of the back to back, prime time, daytime "ask your doctor" ads cost? How much is one life worth? Very little to the legal drug lords.
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