Mindfulness meditation provides opioid-free pain relief

In a randomized, double-blind study, researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found that mindfulness meditation reduced pain in participants, and did so without using the body’s endogenous opioid system as other cognitive-based approaches to pain reduction do.

Fadel Zeidan, PhD, assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, led the study. Zeidan says, “Our finding was surprising and could be important for the millions of chronic pain sufferers who are seeking a fast-acting, non-opiate-based therapy to alleviate their pain.”

Researchers injected study participants with either a drug called naloxone, which blocks the pain-reducing effects of opioids, or a saline placebo. Pain was induced by using a thermal probe to heat a small area of the participants’ skin. Study participants rated their pain using a sliding scale.

The researchers found that the participants’ pain ratings were reduced by 24 percent from the baseline measurement in the meditation group that received the naloxone, showing that even when the body’s opioid receptors were chemically blocked, meditation still was able to significantly reduce pain by using a different pathway. Pain ratings also were reduced by 21 percent in the meditation group that received the placebo-saline injection.

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