Distinct Neural Pathways in Mindfulness-Induced Analgesia Identified

HealthDay News –  Analgesia associated with mindfulness meditation is mechanistically distinct from analgesia derived from the placebo effect and does not appear to be facilitated through opioidergic mechanisms, according to a study published in the March 16 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

Fadel Zeidan, PhD, from the Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C., and colleagues conducted a double-blind randomized trial to examine behavioral pain responses in healthy human volunteers during mindfulness meditation and nonmanipulation control condition. Participants were randomized to four treatment arms, to receive meditation or control and intravenous administration of the opioid antagonist naloxone or saline placebo. Thermal stimuli were administered and participants assessed the intensity and unpleasantness of pain.

The researchers observed a significant reduction in pain intensity and unpleasantness ratings for meditation during saline infusion versus control plus saline. Meditation-induced analgesia was not reversed with naloxone. No significant differences were seen for pain intensity or pain unpleasantness reductions with meditation + naloxone or meditation + saline. 

Significantly greater reductions in pain intensity and unpleasantness were seen for mindfulness meditation during naloxone infusion.

Summary and Clinical Applicability

This novel study demonstrated that analgesia related to mindfulness is mechanistically distinct from  analgesia derived from the placebo effect.

“These findings demonstrate the mindfulness meditation does not rely on endogenous opioidergic mechanisms to reduce pain,” the authors write.


Zeidan F, Emerson NM, Farris SR, et al. Mindfulness Meditation-Based Pain Relief Employs Different Neural Mechanisms Than Placebo and Sham Mindfulness Meditation-Induced Analgesia. J Neurosci. 2015;35(46):15307-25.