Friday, January 1, 2010

Cure the Blues, or Happy New Year!

Acetaminophen, which is derived from coal tar, may cure the blues. From the University of Kentucky:

"A research team ... has uncovered evidence indicating that acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol) may blunt social pain."

Damn--and all these years we thought that was what booze was for!

Curious, though, that Kentucky produces coal, whiskey, and Loretta Lynn, all three now remedies for social pain....

But seriously, the theory hinges on overlap in our circuitry for social and physical pain. The pains of a broken heart have neural overlap with the pains of a broken bone.

Booze has long been used to dull both forms of pain. Speaking of which, this acetaminophen discovery sounds remarkably similar to the tale of heroin.

The Hard Stuff

"Heroin" was originally brand name product, a pain killer made by Bayer.

LoS has been all hung up on words lately, started by our Boxing Day posting about Platzangst, a German word for "place fear"--so of course we just happen to know that Bayer is a German company--and that "the name heroin probably derives from the German word heroisch, which means powerful" (BBC).

Originally marketed as a cough suppressant, heroin's pain killing abilities are indeed powerful--famously, for both for physical and psychological pain.

A Little Science Followed by a Little Verbal Abuse

This link between the twin pains seems obvious (in retrospect, perhaps)--not only due to the link between the self-medicated use of narcotics and booze to dull the blues--but also by virtue of the overlapping symptoms exhibited by depression.

I know this sounds somehow callous and uncaring (it's not--I'm actually writing this as an expression of sympathy)--but if you've spent much time around depressed people you've probably noticed how often they have headaches, backaches, stomach aches, lots of whining about much how their foot hurts after I've stepped on it thanks to my always clumsy dancing, complaints about how cold it is, etc.

This observation isn't just your (or my) imagination at work. There's a well established link (e.g., this Harvard article) between physical and psychological pain--both apparently capable of causing the other.

The link (reversible causality) between physical and psychological pain leads to some uncomfortable areas of discussion, specifically, for example, when I yell at you, screaming, "Your foot really didn't hurt that bad when I stepped on it, you imagined it! It's pyschosamtic! In your head!" Somehow, screaming at you doesn't make you feel better, but that bottle of vodka you keep hidden in the garage does, and so you "take out the trash"....

A Tongue-in-cheek Proof

Now here's the final kicker in my thesis. Red-heads, as it turns out, feel more pain that anyone else, and require more pain killers. Who drinks the most? Who feels the deepest?

Quod erat demonstrandum....

My Two Cents

Here's my take on all this--psychological pain is real, and it hits you just like "real" pain.

I remember, as a kid, wishing that I had that genetic disorder where you don't feel pain--before seeing one of those horrifying documentaries on the condition (imagine looking down at blisters rising on your hand as you slowly realize that the pan you are holding is scalding hot).

There is, in other words, a purpose for pain. The trouble is, pain outlasts its usefulness. For example, when you wipe out after jumping off that ramp on your bike, it hurts like hell and you learn your lesson. When it still hurts four days later, well that's mostly pointless pain, one of the many stupidities in our evolutionary-based body design.

That's why pain killers are such a blessing. So it is, too, I argue, with psychological pain. A broken heart is a teacher--until it lingers on to become a millstone about the neck, draggin' you down.

Someday, perhaps, you'll head to the doc with that broken heart, and he'll tell you, "Take two of these, and call me in the morning".

Until then, here's mud in yer eye!

Happy New Year!


  1. So do you have a vodka bottle out in the garage or was that just a hypothetical example? :o

  2. Nah, it's just hypothetical. I actually keep my smack out there. ;-)

    But ohh man, if I did keep vodka out in the garage it'd be icy cold and slippery down my throat! Christ, though, with all the snow around here, the walk back from the garage would probably turn into an artic disaster, like "To Build a Fire" or the Donner Pass or something.

  3. Yeah, Minneapolis sounds like a cool place, but that weather'd make me flee posthaste. Drove me out of Ithaca, it did....


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