Love and Pain

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.

 

Figure: Love-induced pain relief was associated with the activation of primitive brain structures that control rewarding experiences, such as the nucleus accumbens – shown here in red. Profoundly rewarding experiences such as love may naturally reduce pain, via the close neurological ties between reward-processing and pain-processing regions in the brain.

“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, 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.”

The full article is freely available at the PLoS ONE website.