The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week issued new guidelines for doctors who prescribe painkillers that aim to cut down on overdose deaths tied to the drugs. But new research suggests a very different way to combat the pain-pill problem: Meditation.

For the new study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers from Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina found that meditation and other cognitive-based approaches can reduce pain as effectively as medication, Medical News Today reports.


The researchers, led by Fadel Zeidan, injected 78 healthy, pain-free study participants with either a drug called naloxene that blocks the pain-reducing effects of drugs or a saline placebo then before exposing their skin to mildly painful heat probes. They then divided the participants into four treatment groups during the four-day trial – half of which engaged in meditation.

The results showed those who meditated reported significantly lower sensations of pain than those who did not, even when they received the medication or the saline placebo. At the same time, participants in the non-meditation groups reported increases in pain, whether they received the naloxone or placebo-saline injection.

Zeidan says their results have demonstrated that meditation can reduce induced pain though body systems that appear to be different and separate from those affected by painkillers.

“This study adds to the growing body of evidence that something unique is happening with how meditation reduces pain,” he said. “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.”

He added that researchers “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.”

According to the Institute of Medicine, 100 million Americans experience chronic pain, costing over $600 billion each year.