Mindfulness Meditation Delivers Opioid-Free Pain Relief, Study Says

Mindfulness Meditation Delivers Opioid-Free Pain Relief, Study Says

Researchers at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center published a study that looked into whether meditation uses natural opioids to reduce pain.

The study, led by author, Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy found that mindfulness meditation does not employ the endogenous opioid system to reduce pain.

“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,” said Dr. Zeidan.

The researchers injected study participants with either naloxone, which chemically blocks opioid receptors, or a saline placebo.

In this randomized, double-blinded study, 78 healthy, pain-free volunteers were divided into four groups for the four-day (20 minutes per day) trial.  The groups consisted of:

  • meditation plus naloxone
  • non-meditation control plus naloxone
  • meditation plus saline placebo
  • non-meditation control plus saline placebo.

A thermal probe was used to induce pain by heating a small area of the skin to 102.2 degrees, which is considered very painful by most people.  The participants then rated their pain using a sliding scale.

The authors concluded that pain ratings were reduced 24% from the baseline measurement for the group using meditation and naloxone.  They noted that this is important because the opioid receptors were chemically blocked, while significantly reducing pain.  Pain was also reduced by 21% in the meditation and saline placebo group.

The non-meditation control groups reported increases in pain regardless of whether they got the naloxone or placebo-saline injection.

“Our team has demonstrated across four separate studies that meditation, after a short training period, can reduce experimentally induced pain,” Zeidan said.  “And now this study shows that meditation doesn’t work through the body’s opioid system.”

“This study adds to the growing body of evidence that something unique is happening with how meditation reduces pain.  These findings are especially significant to those who have built up a tolerance to opiate-based drugs and are looking for a non-addictive way to reduce their pain.”

Zeidan’s team hopes to determine how mindfulness meditation can affect a wide range of chronic pain conditions.

“At the very least, we believe that meditation could be used in conjunction with other traditional drug therapies to enhance pain relief without it producing the addictive side effects and other consequences that may arise from opiate drugs,” he said.

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Authored by: Staff

There are 23 comments for this article
  1. Christine Pohl at 10:42 pm

    Not always. I am a natural healer and meditation is ok for low level pain and maybe medium. But, for extreme pain. No it may get your mind off it for a little while. I found doing reiki self healing helps.

  2. Linda Grant at 9:34 am

    I have so much to say and very little energy to do it, so I’ll be brief: the pain I have to endure leaves very little hole that sitting and trying to meditate will help my severed nerves in my foot. Now, I have 10 other painful conditions, but imagine a severed nerve..for men, imagine getting kicked where you don’t want to be kicked repeatly forever. Sturdiest have proven that heart attack symptoms present differently in men than in women, as do levels of pain. This one size fits all approach is ridiculous. Imagine the most painful episode you have ever had and then imagine that it will never, ever subside. You beg and pray and plead for it to stop, but a Doctor tells you it will never get better. However, we can make you a bit less uncomfortable with this medication. The sharp pain becomes less intense, but it’s still there. You get depressed, but grateful that there is something, anything that helps this all consuming pain. Friends stop asking you to go out because you just can’t. You count pills to make sure you have enough for your daughter’s wedding but know you will be paying for it for a week with break through pain. Your life is all about avoiding more pain than you are already in. It’s not the life I chose. A doctor cut the wrong thing and fled the country. No money awarded would make a difference anyway when your condition effects your family, friends and your day to day existence. Now, the pills that stopped you from contemplating ending it all are being threatened by people who have no idea who you are, how you suffer and what it feels like to live like the thing most people are afraid of at the end of their lives..you don’t want to die in pain. We are dying in pain everyday. I live in the United States of America. The government is now telling me and my Doctor how to live and how to do their job! How is this possible? I feel like I live in a communist country! Listen: I am in a Pain Management clinic where I now have to pee in a cup to prove that I’m taking my meds and not selling them. Ok, I’ll live with that. I’m now having a liver profile blood test every 6 months to a year rather than every quarter: it used to be be to make sure ai was ok, but now it’s more important to pee in said cup to make sure society is ok rather than me. My Doctor is a well known anesthesiologist who is thinking of retiring becuase he is afraid of the DEA (reminds me of WW 2 Germany.) why is my government waging war on me? Telling a person who is suffering to meditate is like watching your child get tortured and telling you to calm down and get over it. Sit and hope you feel better? Meditation has been around for thousands of years: don’t you think if it worked there would have been zero reason for medication in the first place? Don’t you think chronic pain suffers would love to not be in pain and live a regular life? Do you think we enjoy this? You know what I am forgetting? Joy. I can’t remember how it feels to not have pain. So please, stop with the goofy meditation studies. Maybe if I was waxing my upper lip,mother distract would help for a moment,nbut the burning comes back within seconds.

  3. Angel at 10:55 am

    This study borders on ridiculous and I’m a proponent of meditation and actively use it in my chronic pain management. Again acute vs chronic pain they decided to use acute pain method and say look a cure for chronic pain. Wrong acute vs chronic is a world of difference. Do try meditation though. As a chemo patient meditation helps me focus and relieves pain.

  4. Maureen at 9:53 am

    Thank you Krissy…I sent NPR a request. Hope to be in contact soon.
    To all of you Pain Warriors… keep a smile on your face and your chin up! I pray that better days are coming. I know that the stress of these horrendous issues only brings on increased pain. Keep strong!

  5. Kristine (Krissy) at 6:32 pm

    Maureen, go to the website here and find the contact info. Ask for NPR to release my email to you and send me an email. I might be able to help you.

  6. Chris at 11:41 pm

    I hope some have success. However, Chronic Pain is not as “general” as touching as 25 w light bulb. Chronic pain does not have a cookie cutter effect on people. Temporary pain cannot define Chronic Pain. I hope those who do these studies are trying to add to our tools, not to replace tools.

  7. Chris at 11:17 pm

    I wonder if anyone (those who created the study) has even given the slightest thought to, the DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PAIN that is temporary, and Chronic Pain??? If anyone thinks that the pain felt when you touch a 25 w light bulb, is remotely the same a Pain that at times is just beyond numbers or smiley and sad faces, well they just do not understand, not out of stupidity but ignorance.
    surface temperature of bulbs in ambient temperature of 77F:
    25W – 110F
    40W – 252F
    60W – 260F

    “induce pain by heating a small area of the skin to 102.2 degrees, which is CONSIDERED VERY PAINFUL by most people.” If a person went to a Dr and told them they needed meds for touching a 25 w light bulb, they would be shown the door. Does the study understand, they defend and define pain as “CONSIDERED VERY PAINFUL by most people” how do they know? That is what we face, when we share what we “Consider Very Painful,” some may not be able to explain pain is such general terms, and be accepted. Here pain is what hot is, however, hot will cool down. Except if you are a burn patient, a pain I do not have or completely understand.

    Now to be fair and clear, I get the point, I will not speak against thing that will help people who have pain. But, to compare apples and oranges is a little short sighted. What Chronic Pain does to us is more than just “hurt.” The effects are different; no cookies cutter effects if you will. Physical, mental, etc, we have to face each day and some days it is difficult enough, then throw into the mix having to deal with getting the Help we need. Being mindful that we have seen the army of those in the medical field, we have proof of our condition. Then to face insurance and government, to get the “OK”, yet maybe not tomorrow. Chronic Pain patients deal with all of these aspect + family, friends, and yourself, each and everyday. Day after week after months after years, we face all of these things, how we see ourselves, how others can be let down, on and on. All of these hurdles happen, then to top it all off, we have days where we might not be able to get up and contribute at all.

  8. Tim Mason at 7:01 pm

    I meditate the anxiety away about going for my regular pain specialist visit. Why do doctors not have you meditate prior to surgery? There are charlatans scheming right now about how to capitalize on this new found remedy. Not so fast.
    I have been meditating about what is really going on with these agencies and I feel it comes down to something similar to prohibition when alcohol what the evil thing. When the government figured a way to capitalize with taxes and make lots of money prohibition went away. What we have now are these agencies already getting a profit from a drug existence. Think of the law enforcement dollars, agencies with nice salaries the license fees for physicians, pharmacies. These people are making a living at criminalizing others. Meditate on this: Follow the dollars. Perhaps if we look real close at the financial books these people have we would find that they are making a hefty profit from making chronic pain patients suffer. They are the ones that are addicted. They are addicted to the money their enterprise brings in.

  9. Maureen at 2:32 pm

    This is a very long story short…. I am very grateful for forums like this, and others, to vent our frustrations and concerns for ourselves and fellow chronic pain folks. I especially Thank Diane for all that you wrote. I can relate to it all. I have been following the US Pain Foundation since it’s beginning and now the Nat’l Pain Report for several weeks.
    I moved to Fla. 17 mths ago from CT. and WOW…a whole new can of worms opened up for my treatment from my 1st pain management visit on…to say the least! I would never have moved here had I known! I was stable enough for many years with my treatment and my awesome, compassionate and understanding doctor up north.
    I’ve had 4 spine surgeries, horrific myelograms, many sets of injections, spinal stimulator that failed, etc. I’ve gone by the rules and finally found a good enough combo of meds to help me without great side effects… until I moved!! I have suffered greatly since…
    Here in Fla…. I have been extremely mistreated both medically and emotionally since moving to this state. I moved to be closer to family for physical support…which as many of you may realize… just isn’t happening in my future! Another great disappointment. I’ve been fooled in that arena also. They don’t get my pain issues at all and therefore they turn away.
    I was a nurse for 34 years before my injury 13 years ago (traumatic auto accident that changed my life) and I very fortunately worked with some of this nations top Neurologists and Neurosurgeons, as well as many doctors in other fields over my years. I know doctors!!
    The ones I have connected with here as a patient…are wicked!!!
    I have been blown away and full of fear for my future since my 1st visit.
    Therefore…I began researching more and more and more and only recently got my answers.
    I thank the Nat’l Pain Report for helping me along that path. I’m constantly frustrated and dismayed with what is going on. It’s like an UNBELIEVABLE horror movie. I just can’t fathom it.
    But, I have become a victim of it here in Fla. and it is out of my control. You are not even permitted to converse with these doctors. They refuse to look at you, examine you, discuss my history, my surgeries, my meds etc. and whatever RX. they hand to you is what you get! Case closed!
    I’ve suffered great side effects,emotionally, increased pain with increased struggle getting through all days and nights now etc etc. I could go on and on.

    The suicide rate for chronic pain folks is already on the rise. How could they d/c our meds and expect us to live in severe pain?!
    Are ALL people going to be able to go through withdrawal with professional help and guidance?! I doubt that very much. We will suffer so badly.
    How could we ‘possibly’ live in the pain we will have to live in, without medication?!! It is no different than a Diabetic who needs their insulin or a Cardiac Patient who needs their heart meds… we need our meds to live our lives.
    PT, yoga, meditation, etc…been there, done that! and I keep on trying BUT… our pain can change by the minute with no rhyme nor reason and PT and yoga always end up hurting me. Meditation can help when the meds need an assist 🙂 but surely not to replace the med!!!!
    It’s hard enough getting out of bed, making the bed, showering/dressing, providing meals, etc etc while on the meds… how will we be ever be able to even do any of that without meds. and in uncontrolled pain?! God help us.
    It truly is insanity on the part of the CDC, DEA, lawmakers, Governors, Doctors and the list goes on.
    The bottom line at this point though is this…WE MUST HELP OUR SITUATIONS NOW!! But how?! Please don’t give up. Please continue supporting each other in any way you can. Please continue to hang on and send out advise and stories. We need each other more than ever. Thank you all, keep strong!!!

  10. Elton L. at 1:16 pm

    This is for myself and I’m quite sure some other chronic pain patients may feel the same way as i. For my condition there’s no other form of pain relief than my opioids that I have to take. So your method may work for some bit for someone like me, that is a bunch of bull. I take 8 MG dilaudid, 20 ml of morphine, promethazine and I still hurt so now you understand that some people have no other choice but to take their opioids cause there is no other type of relief in sight.

  11. Kristine (Krissy) at 10:06 am

    There will be tons and tons of news articles now on studies and remedies for pain. This is fueled by the CDC’s new guidelines, just as they planned all the news articles on all the dangers and deaths from opioids before the guidelines went into place. Just watch…

  12. Kerry McKelvey at 8:17 am

    I get that meditation relieves pain and absolutely recognize meditations benefits. These results however are only significant for acute pain and if it helps the kind of chronic pain produced that’s by a still healthy response from a cause that hasn’t rewired the brain yet if there’s such a thing, I can see it helping. But I think the real study for a pain condition that’s got a disregulated pain response to a significant degree that gives relief enough to allow them to enter into any degree of function outside of basic ADL has to be recognized with a different study and even then not be touted as a answer that brings relief enough to replace opioids. Life for us it’s a broken pain response that It possibly helps as a companion to opioids to relieve pain severe and constant. Any reduction in stress is helpful but in my experience I have found I would have to be constantly meditating to relieve my pain from an 10 to an 8 and is not feasible around the clock. It’s not enough or practical to be employed to help my pain and ability to live outside my bed to a level that’s to a humane enough level to replace opioids. For temporary relief when I’m writhing in pain it’s mandatory and as a practice everyday practice to relieve my brain that’s tired of the constant alarm clanging in my brain a temporary relief is better than nothing.

  13. Carolyn at 8:15 am

    I agree that opioid medication is the only medication that provides some relief.I have tried about everything.!!!! Prayer is a good resource from God!!!!!

  14. HJ at 8:04 am

    Nancy, you might be thinking of low dose naltrexone. That’s different from naloxone.

  15. Rick Raul at 7:31 am

    Unbelievable nonsense! My bath water is 105F and it is not painful at all. This so called research is a sham. All of the subjects were healthy and pain free. I’m an opiate dependent chronic pain patient for seven years. You want to try your little faux experiment on real pain? I thought not. Your study is flawed and insulting to real pain management patients. Learn the difference between dependence and addiction. The words are NOT synonymous.

  16. Jane Fuller at 7:30 am

    Really? Seriously, a small patch that generates 102 degrees that some people find painful? A small heating patch? What length of time was this worn, and just the knowledge that it was going to be removed would help “meditate” your way through something so trivial. Why didn’t they stick a big needle right through the middle of their hand or foot and let them check out the “meditation and naloxone”, and see if their “pain” was improved. FLAWED, FLAWED, FLAWED extremely biased study. What an INSULT to pain patients! This is the way universities study chronic pain?

  17. Judy at 7:24 am

    This study sounds like it measures an acute pain. Is there anything that measures chronic pain?

  18. Danny E at 6:52 am

    I wonder how those participants would feel if they had that burning sensation in their brains for 25 year? Meditation would be a little difficult to do in that situatio, I think. Actually, I know, because I’ve been living with it. And, I don’t need meditation. I use prayer, which I believe is far more valuable. This is one of the silliest things I’ve ever read. And I respect Wake Forest Baptist Hospital, as I live in Winston-Salem, NC, home of the hospital. This just confirms how difficult it is to find a pain management doctor who will use pain medications in this area. There is a tremendous abhorrence to opioid in this area.

  19. Denise Heimstead at 5:20 am

    Each participant was exposed to acute pain for no more than 20 minutes. I wonder how well the meditation would have worked had the participants been exposed for a few years and then try the study. Acute pain and chronic pain are NOT the same!

  20. HJ at 5:13 am

    A lot of my pain is during my workday, when my boss wouldn’t like to see me meditating…

    When I’m at home, I can do a lot more to manage my pain than when I’m working. Of course, the demands and stress of work add to my pain. If I’m home, I can use a heating pad, take a hot shower, lay down and relax a bit.

    During my working hours, I would NOT get by without opiods. It would be detrimental to my work even if I could manage to continue to work. I still do have pain, which affects my concentration, makes me tired, and can affect my mood… it makes me function at less-than-my-best when it matters most. The opiods tone it down so that I’m not actually “suffering” but managing to co-exist with the pain that remains.

    Take away my medication, and you take away my means of continuing to support myself and of leading the most productive and fulfilling life that I am able. I say this in light of the recent anti-opiate witch-hunt trend.

  21. Nancy at 5:07 am

    Hmmmm. Meditation does help. Have not tried Naloxone. Wanted to but could not find anyone to prescribe. 24% reduction is modest at best. So if you have a pain of 8 out of 10 most days…would pain of 6 be acceptable?

  22. Diane Gracely at 4:00 am

    Sure…. if only it were that simple… meditation does NOT work to STOP nor give relief of my peripheral neuropathy pain nor my severe muscle spasms. OH believe me I have TRIED EVERYTHING. I do physical therapy, exercise, injections, I’ve had numerous surgeries, and then to top it off I was HIT by a drunk driver which only caused MORE herniated discs in my neck and back.
    My LAST RESORT was opiates, opiates are the ONLY thing that give me some kind of pain relief and allow me to function on a daily basis.
    Physical therapy and exercise work for those who have ONLY suffered from chronic pain for SHORT periods of time, BUT for those of us with debilitating illnesses with no cure… we just continue to suffer with more and more chronic pain.
    I have suffered for 40+ years with chronic pain that only gets WORSE as I age. And the doctors continue to find more and more debilitating illnesses. I was finally diagnosed with “fibrous dysplasia of the temporal bone after suffering for more than 10 years with severe headaches and swelling of my eyes and nose. I wake up EVERY MORNING looking like a monster due to swelling from fluid retention around my eyes and nose. AND all of this is causing me to lose my vision. I am currently having MORE tests done to see if they can find a way to STOP this insanity. It looks as though I am facing TWO more surgeries to FIX the problems with losing my vision.
    I would give anything to get some pain relief without the use of medications. I HATE taking pills, I hate having surgeries, and I hate having to have spinal injections. BUT I am out of options, doctors say I am a tough case because of ALL of my health problems. I’ve had both of my feet totally reconstructed because my Charcot Marie Tooth disease deformed my feet and put me in a wheelchair, thanks to a great surgeon I am walking again.
    I could go on and on here about my health problems and what I have been through BUT no one listens so what’s the point.
    All the DEA and CDC care about right NOW is TAKING AWAY pain meds from all of us chronic pain patients who DEPEND on opiates for a quality of life.
    I am the founder of “Chronic Pain Rights” a non-profit organization created to HELP those of us who are sufferingwith chronic pain and are having our human rights taken away from us and left to SUFFER. They don’t even let ANIMALS suffer the way they are making US SUFFER.