Frequent sunbed users experience opioid-like effects from tanning sessions




One of the wildest studies you'll read about this week.

They took 14 frequent sunbed users and exposed them to either a regular tanning bed or one with no UV rays on Monday, the other one on Wednesday, then let them choose on Friday. For 6 weeks.

They didn't know which bed had UV. 12 of the 14 opted in for a tanning session on Friday. 95% of them spontaneously chose the bed with UV


And they had no idea what the study was about. There was no clever trick. It was positive reinforcement from the rewarding effects of a crack-like level of UV exposure.

The follow-up experiments were equally enlightening.

UV-induced stimulation of skin cell POMC produces melanin-stimulating hormone which facilitates tanning. A little side effect of this is the co-production of beta-endorphin, a hormone responsible for euphoria ("runner's high") and analgesia (pain killing).

So, without knowing it, the participants were chasing the dragon.

Premise for the next (very small n=3) experiment: if a participant actually prefers the non-UV bed, this may suggest they don't experience the endorphin response as much (non-responders?).

The participant who preferred the non-UV bed did not respond to opioid blockade via naloxone. This basically confirms the premise above. The other two participants got sick to their stomachs suggesting some sort of opioid withdrawal. 


Next experiment: 8 frequent tanners vs. 8 infrequent tanners. Maybe infrequent tanners tan infrequently because they don't get the endorphin kick? None of them responded to naloxone whereas half of the frequent tanners got sick.

tanners chasing the dragon....

Addictive-like behaviors to ultraviolet light among frequent indoor tanners (Harrington et al., 2010)

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