The loss of someone you love hurts. Losing your job is painful. No one wants to be ignored because it brings on heartache, depression and possibly increase your chances of developing cancer or dementia. The field of psychoneuroimmunology has evolved to study the link between social and physical pain. Obviously, to anyone who has experienced any of the above events in life, the link between psychic and physical pain is quite real and the symptoms are very difficult to treat.
During the evolution of our brain those areas that were once only responsible for experiencing the sensory component of pain slowly evolved to provide the sensations associated with the affective components of the experience. Thus,the psychic ache that develops due to social isolation is often accompanied by headache, nausea, depression and loss of appetite. Recently, psychologists from the University of Kentucky and The Ohio State University demonstrated that because these two systems overlap functionally and anatomically in the brain it might be possible to reduce the social pain experience by targeting the physical pain experience with common over-the-counter drugs.
Two different types of common analgesics, acetaminophen and ibuprofen (i.e. Tylenol and Advil), are capable of producing this combined benefit by enhancing the action of the brain’s endogenous marijuana neurotransmitter. A more recent study (May, 2013) by these same psychologists demonstrated that regular marijuana use reduced the experience of low self-worth and the incidence of major depressive episodes in lonely people. Their research supports the hypothesis that treating physical pain with simple over-the-counter drugs might lessen the psychic pain as well.