Could Brain Stimulation Replace Opiates? | The Fix
facebook twitter RSS
HOT TOPICS: Alcoholism  Addiction  AA  Cocaine  Heroin

Could Brain Stimulation Replace Opiates?

Electrically stimulating the brain may provide drug-free pain management, research suggests.


Does pain relief have a pill-free future?
Photo via

By Sarah Beller


| Share

Could electricity one day overtake pain pills? New research suggests that electrical stimulation of certain brain regions may release an opiate-like substance that reduces severe pain, mimicking the effects of pharmaceutical pain-relievers. The naturally-occurring substance is a "mu-opioid," and pain relief occurs when it binds with a mu-opioid receptor—which is also how most pharmaceutical opiates (like morphine) work. “This is arguably the main resource in the brain to reduce pain,” says lead researcher Dr. Alexandre DaSilva, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan. “We’re stimulating the release of our (body’s) own resources to provide analgesia. Instead of giving more pharmaceutical opiates, we are directly targeting and activating the same areas in the brain on which they work." In the recent study, researchers stimulated the brain of an individual who suffered from trigeminal neuropathic pain (TNP)—a type of chronic, severe facial pain. They used a low dose of electricity—2 milliamperes (mA)—which is significantly less than the dosage of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) used to treat depression and other psychiatric conditions. After one session, the patient’s threshold for cold pain improved by 36%, but not the patient’s clinical, TNP/facial pain. This suggests that repetitive electrical stimulation over several sessions might be required to have a lasting effect on clinical pain. But if successful, says DaSilva, electrical stimulation could foreseeably be used in place of highly-addictive pharmaceutical painkillers.

Rehabilitation Directories

Most Popular
The Rehab Review
Cliffside Malibu

The “beach-house-relaxed” Cliffside Malibu claims to provide an oasis for recovering addicts and alcoholics. And that’s just what you'll get—if you’ve got the cash.

Morningside Recovery

For a “rehab near the beach” experience that isn’t quite as costly as similar SoCal competitors, head to this Newport Beach treatment facility.

AToN Center

Whether you’re interested in the 12 Steps, SMART Recovery, or holistic treatments, this luxurious, appealing and commendable 4.5 star (our system doesn't yet show the 1/2 star) San Diego rehab has a program for you. 


This exclusive Northern California rehab is all about client choice—as well as golf outings, Buddhist field trips and keeping up with the office.

Capo By The Sea

Capo By The Sea offers an executive rehab program complete with medical detox and a focus on dual-diagnosis issues, as well as an outpatient option in an environment that exudes the kind of beach house optimism one would expect from an Orange County recovery outfit.

Journey Malibu

Want many of the luxury amenities A-listers have come to expect—including an enormous backyard with a pool and patio, an herb garden, a volleyball net and a spectacular vista of the Santa Monica mountains—with a recovery program to match?

The Ultimate Guide to Rehab

What you need to know when choosing an addiction treatment center.

the fix tv