Mindfulness meditation provides opioid-free pain relief, study says

For the millions of individuals suffering from chronic pain, opioid painkillers seem like the only option. But a new study from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center found that mindfulness mediation may provide drug-free pain relief.

In research published Tuesday in the Journal of Neuroscience, scientists found that mindfulness meditation does not work through the body’s opioid system to reduce pain— meaning there’s no risk of drug addiction or concern for those with a high tolerance to opiate-based drugs.

“We’ve now shown across multiple studies using neuroimaging and pharmacologic intervention with opiate blocking that meditation reduces pain through very unique pathways,” study leader Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., an assistant professor of neurobiology and anatomy at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, told FoxNews.com. “We’re able to find a way to cure chronic pain; not necessarily taking pain away, but by diminishing the aspect of chronic pain that really promotes suffering, which is the catastrophizing of pain, the anxiety, depression, and quality of life issues."

Whenever there is pain, the body employs its endogenous opioid system to release opioids that act as potent painkillers. Cognitive-based therapies— which includes hypnosis, acupuncture and distraction— have been shown to relieve pain through use of the opioid system. By bypassing the opioid system, mindfulness meditation could be attractive to those who have built up a tolerance to opioid-based drugs and those looking for non-addictive solutions to their pain.

“All the anesthesiologists we’re working with were blown away,” Zeidan said. “For thousands of years, Buddhist monks have said that meditation reduces pain in a unique fashion. With the advent of neuroimaging and pharmacologic studies, only recently have we been able to examine and potentially verify what they’re saying.”

The study comes on the heels of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s release of voluntary guidelines instructing primary care doctors to sharply deter use of medicines for chronic pain. The new guidelines recommend non-opioids, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, as preferred therapy. Opioids are to be prescribed in the lowest possible dose and patients should be closely monitored, Reuters reported.

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