One of the most consumed drugs in the US, and the most commonly taken analgesic worldwide, could do much more than just take the edge off your headaches.

According to a study from 2020 that measured changes in people's behavior when under the influence of the common over-the-counter medication, a cetaminophen increases risk-taking.

When the findings were published, Baldwin Way from The Ohio State University said that acetonephen made people feel less negative emotion when they considered riskier activities.

Reducing risk perception and increasing risk-taking could have important effects on society.

A growing body of research suggests that the effects of pain reduction on psychological processes, such as receptivity to hurt feelings, is related to the effects of acetaminophen.

According to the research, people's ability to perceive and evaluate risks can be impaired by taking acetaminophen. The effects might be slight, but they're worth noting, given that acetaminophen is the most common drug ingredient in America, found in over 600 different kinds of over-the-counter and prescription medicine.

In a series of experiments involving over 500 university students as participants, Way and his team measured how a single dose of acetaminophen randomly assigned to participants affected their risk-taking behavior, compared against placebos randomly given to a control group.

In each of the experiments, participants had to inflate a balloon on a computer screen and then make a profit. To make sure they didn't lose money if they popped the balloon, they were told to pump the balloon as much as possible.

The students who took acetaminophen engaged in more risk taking than the placebo group. Those on the drug pumped their balloons more than the control did.

If you don't want the balloon to burst and lose your money, you can cash out a few times.

As the balloon gets bigger, we believe they have less anxiety about how big the balloon is getting and the chance of it bursting.

In addition to the balloon simulation, participants also filled out surveys, rating the level of risk they perceived in various hypothetical scenarios, such as bungee jumping off a tall bridge, or driving a car without a seatbelt.

In one of the surveys, the consumption of tylenol appeared to reduce the perceived risk compared to the control group.

The team concluded that there is a significant relationship between taking a drug and choosing to take it more often.

They acknowledge that the drug's effects on risk-taking behavior could be seen in other ways.

The researchers theorize that as the balloon increases in size, those on placebo feel more anxious.

They end the trial when the anxiety gets too high. This anxiety may be reduced by the use of acetaminophen.

The team said that exploring psychological alternative explanations for this phenomenon, as well as investigating the biological mechanisms that affect people's choices in situations like this, should be addressed in future research.

While they're at it, scientists will have future opportunities to further investigate the role and efficacy of acetaminophen in pain relief more broadly, after studies in recent years found that the drug can be ineffective at pain relief.

According to Way, we might want to rethink some of the advice.

Way said that someone with mild COVID-19 symptoms might not think it's as risky to leave their house and meet with people if they're taking a drug.

More research needs to be done on the effects of over-the-counter drugs on our decisions.

The findings were published in a journal.

The article was first published in September 2020.