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The Love Drug

Sometimes, love hurts.

But sometimes, a new Stanford University study suggests, intense, passionate love might actually be able to provide you with pain relief - perhaps even as much as morphine does!

The study involved undergrads who described themselves as head-over-heels in love, CBS News Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton pointed out to "The Early Show on Saturday Morning" co-anchor Chris Wragge.

"This is really something that looked at mind versus body, pain versus pleasure, thinking versus feeling," she explained. "(It was a) small study. … They looked at 15 undergrads madly in love, gave them a painful stimulus, they had to hold a hot temperature probe while they looked at a picture of their lover. The others were just shown a picture of someone they knew but weren't wildly in love with.

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"Those who looked at their lover really did not feel the same pain; they had a 45 percent reduction in their perception of moderate pain and a 12 percent reduction in their feeling of severe pain."

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The researchers aren't sure what's behind those findings, "but it involves a chemical made in the brain known as dopamine," Ashton said. "Areas in the brain called reward or pleasure centers ... are really stimulated as you experience feelings of love, much the same as they are with gambling or even exercise. So, this is an area that could, in the future, be targeted by certain medications for people who have chronic pain. In theory, this is something that could be targeted for more areas of research, because we know people who live with chronic pain really suffer and we would like to offer them more than medication."

Ashton says the study also "underscores" that "if you are dealing with pain, whether chronic or acute, you really don't want to withdraw from the people around you who give you the most loving and supportive social relationships. That can be very easy to do when you are in pain. You don't want to be with those people. This study really suggests that actually you do want to be with them."

But what if you're NOT in love? Take heart, says Ashton!

"Two things can stimulate that dopamine center," she said. "One is exercise … the endorphins you get with exercise. Some people dealing with pain say, 'I don't want to exercise. It hurts too much.' Actually, if you can push past that, you can get that dopamine stimulation.

"The other thing the study found is distraction, if you take your mind off the pain, the stimulus they were holding, you actually can get the same result. So, if you're not in love, either exercise or distract yourself!"

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