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London, Oct 14: Intense romantic love is like a drug and can be as effective as mor*hine and cocaine in relieving pain, says a new study.

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

Scientists in the US tested the theory on a group of 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, reports The Telegraph.

At the same time, the students had their brains scanned by a functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) 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.

he scans revealed that the effects of love could be compared with those of mor*hine and cocaine, both of which target the brain's 'reward centers'.

Mr. Sean Mackey, study leader at Stanford University Medical Centre 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.' The story begins with psychology professor Arthur Aron of the State University

of New York at Stony Brook, who studies the neurology of love. His work has linked that euphoric phase of a fresh romance to brain regions rich in the chemical dopamine. Dopamine is key to what's called the brain's reward pathway, the feel good mechanisms that encourage certain behaviors. Eating sweets, for example, boosts this system - and addictive drugs like cocaine hijack it.

'When people are in love, in many ways it's not dissimilar to what they get when they take amphetamines or stimulants,' noted Dr Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. - AP, IANS