The Effect of Endorphins on Pain

1 January 2017

Neurotransmitters are chemicals located in the brain that are responsible for communication of the information between and throughout the brain and the body. They send and transport signals via nerve cells (neurons). Without neurotransmitters our organism wouldn’t have the ability to function because they are responsible for the operations in our body. With neurotransmitters, the brains sends signals to the other parts of the organism to perform the actions they need to.

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In past decades, numerous experiments were done to prove that and to find more about the neurotransmitters. In 1987, Dr. Jon Levine of the University of California in San Francisco found out that placebo can be expressed as chemical. In other words, he believed that the brain can produce neurotransmitters that can act as pain-killers, therefore in some cases, the mentioned neurotransmitters may trick the organism to believe they were given a certain drug treatment that will relieve pain.

The brain produces the neurotransmitters called endorphins which are similar to opiates and thus influence our body. As i. e. morphine is an opiate that will in certain quantity relieve the pain in our body, endorphins are “naturally produced opiates” that will act in a same way as morphine does. In the same year he conducted an experiment called “Placebo’s effect on pain may equal a dose of morphine” to really prove whether the neurotransmitters endorphins are responsible for pain-killing and they can act as pain-killers (equal a dose of morphine).

Dr Levine wanted to see if giving the participants regular sugar pills and telling them they are pain-killers will have the same effect as if they were really given a pain-killer pill. As participants were under the influence of the placebo, the endorphins are produced and the pain is relieved. Then, his second aim was to then conclude to what does of morphine does placebo equal. The participants were regular patients in a dental clinic who were told to drink a regular pain-killer in order to relieve pain after the appointment.

They were told that the pills were regular everyday pain-killers, but truly they were ordinary sugar pills. The experimenters divided the participants in two groups (independent sample). The participants in both groups were experiencing some form of pain after the same or similar dentist appointment. The participants in the first group were given one sugar pill and were told that the pill was a pain-killer.

Then, the participants in the second group were also given a sugar pill, but they were also given a pill containing a chemical called naloxone which prevents the production of endorphins and therefore no placebo effect would occur (they were possibly told to take two because of the amount of pain). * Dr. Levine believed that if they were given naloxone, this would stop the production of endorphin and thus there would be no chemicals that would suppress the feeling of pain. *the number of participants in each group was not available

The findings were similar as his hypothesis. The participants from the first group didn’t feel any pain after taking the pill because the endorphins were produced and acted as opiates to prevent any further pain. In the second group the participants told the experimenter that they were still experiencing pain, which was expected because the chemical naloxone prevented the production of endorphins and the participants underwent no treatment with opiates whatsoever. With additional studies, dr.Levine concluded that the effect of the placebo possibly equals to 8 milligrams, which is an amount of morphine that will surely suppress pain in a human.

Dr. Levine concluded that human behavior can be influenced using placebo. If someone was told that a certain substance the person is intaking will help him feel better or different, the persons brain will act according to it. The person taking the substance has expectations regarding the use of the substance – the person will expect to feel better just by taking the pill and therefore automatically feel better.

Dr. Levine suggested a reasonable justification – the naturally-produced chemical endorphin is responsible for these operations. The advantage of this study is that it is easy to draw results from it. We knew how placebo worked, but not why. By determining that endorphins are responsible for placebo, we need to justify that. In both cases there would be production of endorphins if just the sugar pill was given and with the production of endorphins the relieving of pain.

To see if endorphins have something to do with placebo, we have to reject the endorphins and see if there will be any change. To reject the production of endorphins the experimenter used naloxone and saw that there was no placebo-effect if there was no production of endorphins. The possible disadvantage would be that there can be other factors along with endorphins that influence the placebo-effect about which the experimenter does not know. The findings are widely used today.

The endorphins are also popular because they are linked to happiness, excitement, pain, etc. We always tell people to rather feel happy and cheerful when they’re experiencing pain psychologically or physically because that would help them. And if the placebo-effect is linked to the endorphins, the effect is very beneficial.

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