Category: Back Pain | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: January 19, 2016
New research suggests that individuals who take morphine pills for lower back pain may be inadvertently altering their brain.
Although the study was small, it did unearth some concerning findings. For their study, researchers asked 11 patients to take a morphine pill and gave 10 others a placebo pill to help combat problematic lower back pain. Participants took the pills over the course of a month, and researchers tracked any changes in brain structure with the help of an MRI.
At the conclusion of the study, researchers found:
- Individuals in the morphine group had exhibited a 3 percent decline in gray matter volume in regions of the brain thought to control cravings, pain response and emotions.
- Patients in the morphine group also experienced gray matter volume increases in areas of the brain responsible for learning, memory and executive function.
- Patients in the placebo group did not experience any volume changes.
Lead researcher Dr. Joanne Lin said the study suggests that other treatment methods should be used before moving to morphine pills for back pain.
“Because we are seeing that opioids rapidly change the brain, our take-home message is that opioids should be reserved for cases when most other treatment options have failed,” said Dr. Lin.
Dr. Lin noted that more research is needed to determine exactly how these structural changes affect a person’s cognitive abilities, adding that it these changes could be the reason some people get addicted to certain medicines or drugs.
“We know that some people become addicted, but we don’t really know why – or how to stop it,” said Lin. “By examining brain changes, we may be able to identify targets to prevent adverse opioid events.”
We’re still learning about the effects morphine pills may have on the brain, but that doesn’t mean doctors should stop prescribing the medication altogether. Instead, doctors should weigh the potential benefits and drawbacks before attempting a different medical approach, said researcher Laura Stone, who wasn’t involved in the study.
“Morphine and other similar opioid drugs provide excellent pain relief in many individuals, especially for short treatment periods, and can result in real improvements in quality of life,” said Stone. “Concerns about the negative consequences of long-term use must be balanced for each individual against the potential therapeutic benefits.”