There are strong indications that mindfulness-based meditation intervenes in the pain reduction by altering the pain perception (how we perceive and experience the pain). However, it is not clear whether the pain reduction is mediated by endogenous opioids (produced by the body) or it is cognitively managed. A very recent double-blind and randomized study published in The Journal of Neuroscience indicates that pain reduction during mindfulness-based meditation is not mediated by internally produced opioids suggesting that “…the treatment of chronic pain may be more effective with meditation due to a lack of cross-tolerance with opiate-based medications.”
This is a significant pronouncement considering there is enough evidence to suggest that long term use of opioids can often be addictive and produce counterproductive effects. One is also dependent upon external substances to alleviate or manage pain. This likelihood of dependence and harmful effects together may outweigh the benefits.
Mindfulness, once learnt and regularly practiced, offers a reliable therapeutic tool to complement pharmacological efforts to manage or treat pain. Considering that mindfulness-based meditative practices are largely safe interventions, teaching individuals suffering through chronic pain mindfulness skills can be a thought worth pursuing.