2.1 million people in America are addicted to drugs like morphine – the most commonly prescribed of all opioid painkillers. Even those who aren’t addicted deal with side effects that range from depression to nausea, headaches and loss of appetite.

If only there were a better way to treat severe chronic pain.

Oh wait, there is – acupuncture. It might seem a bit counter-intuitive, what with the needles and all, but the ancient Chinese practice has actually been proven to provide pain relief benefits that surpass those of morphine.


The evidence comes from a study in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine. Researchers took 300 medically similar patients suffering from acute pain and gave half 15 mg of morphine per day. To the other half, they provided regular acupuncture.

What they found was truly groundbreaking.

“Success rate was significantly different between the two groups (92% in the acupuncture group vs 78% in the morphine group),” the study reads. “The difference persisted during the entire study period.”

It gets even better.

85 patients in the morphine group experienced adverse side effects, the most common of which was dizziness. In the acupuncture group, only 4 patients experienced any negative effect – most commonly via needle breakage.

All of this led the researchers to conclude:

“Acupuncture is at least as efficacious and has a better safety profile than IV morphine. The results of this study suggest that acupuncture has a potential role in controlling acute pain conditions presenting to EDs [emergency departments] and appears to be safe and effective.”

But How?


How exactly does a bit of poking and prodding treat pain?

Well, there’s a lot that goes on during said poking and prodding. Trained acupuncturists work with specific points on the body. According to an article from the Harvard Medical School, stimulation of these points via needles releases endorphins – the body’s natural painkiller.

This is, of course, much safer than morphine, which works by dulling nerves all over the body. Patients build up a tolerance to morphine’s effects very quickly. As a result, they’ll need to take more and more of the drug for it to remain helpful.

The Take-Away

Make no mistake – these findings do affect you, even if you don’t suffer from pain that’s severe enough to warrant opioid use. Just think of how many times you reach for over-the-counter painkillers like acetaminophen, like millions of Americans do every day.

Those drugs are dangerous too; they kill hundreds of people annually. Why not consider acupuncture instead now that you know how effective it is? Have a look at this post to learn about how you can experiment with the foundation of acupuncture at home to see if it’s for you.

Have you ever tried acupuncture? How has it helped you? Please share your story in the comments below!

Health Impact News
Harvard Medical School
American Journal of Emergency Medicine