A recent study has shown that hypnosis can reduce pain by up to 42% and may offer a genuine alternative to painkillers. The research was led by psychologist Dr Trevor Thompson of the University of Greenwich. Published in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, the findings of the study revealed that hypnosis is more effective with people who are especially amenable to suggestion. However, those who are moderately suggestible—essentially most people—experienced a 29% drop in pain.

The research included data from 85 studies across 14 countries, with a total of 3,632 people subjected to different forms of pain stimulation such as heat, extreme cold, exercise, pressure, and even lasers. On a scale of zero to 10, people typically rated the pain they felt as 5.5. “To put that in context, a five level of pain would significantly disrupt our daily lives and have most of us using medication,” told Dr Thompson.

He said, “This is by far the largest review of its kind, examining the effects of hypnosis in over 3,500 people, and presents very compelling evidence. About 15% of the population are highly receptive to hypnosis, and those people saw just over a 40% drop in pain.” Furthermore, “Based on these findings most people would experience around a 30% drop in pain or more, which is generally considered to be clinically meaningful pain relief,” Dr Thompson added.

According to researchers these findings suggest that hypnotic intervention could provide “meaningful pain relief for most people” and, therefore, may be an “effective and safe alternative” to medication. “It can be administered quickly, cheaply and easily at home with a 20-minute audio recording,” they said.

Dr Thompson emphasized that the misuse of prescription painkillers such as codeine and fentanyl had increased hugely over the past few years and was a crisis in some countries, especially the US.

“The next step is to extensively test hypnosis on people with chronic pain, such as back conditions, which people live with every day. Available data on this are not of a high enough quality or quantity. We need to go and try this with people in their day-to-day lives,” told Dr Thompson.

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