Love Is a Drug as Powerful as Morphine and Any Painkiller

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Intense romantic
love really is like a drug, claim scientists, after finding it can
be as effective as morphine for relieving pain.

Passions triggered
by the early flushes of a relationship block physical pain in a
similar way to painkillers and drugs, a study has shown.

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 pain killer.

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".

Dr Sean Mackey,
the study leader and head of the Division of Pain Management at
Stanford University Medical Center 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.

beginning to tease apart some of these reward systems in the brain
and how they influence pain.

are very deep, old systems in our brain that involve dopamine –
a primary neurotransmitter that influences mood, reward and motivation."

The scientists
recruited Stanford students who were in the first nine months of
a romantic relationship.

"We intentionally
focused on this early phase of passionate love," said Dr Mackey.

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15, 2010

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