Passion acts as a painkiller

Love is a drug that can block pain in a similar way to morphine, new research suggests…

Intense feelings of romantic love block physical pain in a similar way to morphine, according to a new study.

Scientists in the US tested the theory on 15 male and female university students who were in the passionate early stages of a love affair. They were shown photos of their partners while a computer-controlled heat probe placed in the palms of their hands delivered mild doses of pain.

At the same time, the students had their brains scanned by a functional magnetic resonance (FMRI) imaging machine. The study showed that feelings of love, triggered by seeing a photo of one’s beloved, acted as a powerful analgesic, dulling the feeling of pain by activating regions in the brain involving dopamine.

Focusing on a photo of an attractive acquaintance rather than a relationship partner did not have the same benefit. The scans revealed that the effects of love could be compared with those of morphine and cocaine, both of which target the brain’s ‘reward centres’.

Study leader Dr Sean Mackey, from Stanford University Medical Centre in California, said: ‘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.

‘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.’

What’s your reaction to this reseach? Are you in a new relationship, and do you think being in love can stop you feeling pain? Let us know your thoughts below…

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