Music Floods the Brain With Natural Painkillers

Consider cueing up your favorite album instead of opening your medicine cabinet.

August 24, 2015
woman lying on grass listening to music
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Put down those painkillers, turn up the tunes, and drown out your pain with music. Listening to music may help ease your pain by triggering your brain to release natural opioids, according to research presented at the 2015 conference for the Society for Music Perception and Cognition.

The researchers discovered that listening to music leads to the release of opioids—yes, chemicals in the same family as morphine—in the brain when they administered opioid-blocking drugs to individuals and then had them listen to their favorite song. Those who took the opioid blockers reported feeling less pleasure from the music than those who took a placebo, indicating that the brain does produce opioids in response to music.

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Additionally, singing, dancing, drumming along, or otherwise engaging with the music enhanced the painkilling affects.

More: Why No Pain Pill Is Totally Safe

Research has previously shown that music can increase people's threshold to pain, but this new study suggests that, with the rush of opioids it provokes, music could prove to be an alternative or supplement to therapy with prescription pain meds.

"Compelling evidence is accumulating that music can play an important role in healthcare settings, ranging from operating rooms to outpatient clinics," says Sondra Barrett, PhD, a coauthor of Ultimate Immunity.

In addition to this new pain-relief promise, music has also been shown to improve immunity by soothing stress. "Many hospitals now recommend that people listen to their favorite music before and during a surgical procedure to reduce their stress and anxiety and promote better outcomes," adds Elson Haas, MD, coauthor of Ultimate Immunity. "Can you imagine how stressful an amniocentesis is for a pregnant woman? Or having open-heart surgery? Now music is helping people have a more positive experience in medical settings."