October 18, 2010
Love Seen As Pain Killer

Love is like an illicit drug that kills pain.

STANFORD, Calif. Intense, passionate feelings of love can provide amazingly effective pain relief, similar to painkillers or such illicit drugs as cocaine, according to a new Stanford University School of Medicine study.

"When people are in this passionate, all-consuming phase of love, there are significant alterations in their mood that are impacting their experience of pain," said Sean Mackey, MD, PhD, chief of the Division of Pain Management, associate professor of anesthesia and senior author of the study, which will be published online Oct. 13 in PLoS ONE. "We're beginning to tease apart some of these reward systems in the brain and how they influence pain. These are very deep, old systems in our brain that involve dopamine a primary neurotransmitter that influences mood, reward and motivation."

These practical scientists want want to find ways to deliver the pain-killing benefits of love without all that heavy emotional baggage that comes from being in love with someone else.

Scientists aren't quite yet ready to tell patients with chronic pain to throw out the painkillers and replace them with a passionate love affair; rather, the hope is that a better understanding of these neural-rewards pathways that get triggered by love could lead to new methods for producing pain relief.

An obvious form of pain relief that is needed: Relief from the pain of a failed love affair. Think about it. If being in love is like a drug that lessens pain then getting jilted is like going thru drug withdrawal.

People who are thinking about a loved one are doing something equivalent to taking cocaine. Should they be arrested for illicit drug use?

"It turns out that the areas of the brain activated by intense love are the same areas that drugs use to reduce pain," said Arthur Aron, PhD, a professor of psychology at State University of New York at Stony Brook and one of the study's authors. Aron has been studying love for 30 years. "When thinking about your beloved, there is intense activation in the reward area of the brain the same area that lights up when you take cocaine, the same area that lights up when you win a lot of money."

Love has downsides. If you need to do some serious planning then you might want to avoid getting into a new relationship until your plans are well under way. Also see my post Love Deactivates Brain Areas For Fear, Planning, Critical Social Assessment.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 October 18 11:08 PM  Brain Love

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