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  • Laser Therapy Institute

Light Therapy for Opioid Addiction

The Scope and Impact of the Opioid Crisis

The opioid epidemic has been a grim and unrelenting crisis. The scale of the problem is staggering, especially in the United States, where overdose opioid-related deaths surpassed 70,000 Americans back in 2019. Tragically, 6x as many people died from drug overdose in 2021 than in 1999, with a 16% increase from 2020 to 2021. In 2021, more than 75% of drug-overdose deaths involved an opioid. In 2023, the U.S. experienced its highest number of overdose deaths within a 12-month span.


Opioids are highly addictive. Unfortunately, a shocking 80% of heroin users reported that their journey into substance abuse began with prescription opioid painkillers. Opioid misuse is not a rare occurrence: Approximately 20% to 29% of patients prescribed opioids misuse them, leading to a significant risk of overdose and death, which affects the individuals, their families, and their communities.


These numbers paint a grim picture and underline the urgency for alternative pain-management strategies.


The Limitations of Current Treatments and the Need for Alternatives

Present treatments for opioid addiction, like medication management, often fall short, for they do not address the underlying psychological and neurobiological factors that precipitate and sustain addiction. This highlights the urgent need for additional treatments that are safe, efficacious, and able to be either a primary or supplemental treatment.


In the quest for alternatives, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2018 shed new light on the potential of non-opioid medications. The study found that non-opioid medications performed better than opioids in managing chronic pain. Further, non-opioid medications were associated with fewer adverse medication-related symptoms. This data suggests a clear shift in favor of non-opioid medications over opioids for chronic pain management.


Noninvasive Pain Management and Holistic Approaches

Despite the encouraging data supporting the use of non-opioid medications, there is a growing recognition of the need for more holistic, noninvasive treatments. Conservative care, physical therapy, and chiropractic treatments have shown promise in managing pain and improving function without the associated risks of opioids. These treatments offer a new pathway for pain management—one that avoids the perils of opioid addiction.

Moreover, there is an increasing emphasis on addressing not just physical pain, but also mental-health issues such as anxiety and depression, which often accompany opioid addiction. This comprehensive approach to treatment acknowledges the multifaceted nature of addiction, and it seeks to provide holistic solutions that promote overall patient well-being.


Light Therapy for Opioid Addiction

Emerging from the field of noninvasive treatment options, light therapy holds significant promise. This innovative approach uses infrared light therapy applied directly over the skull to stimulate the brain, without the need for invasive procedures. The therapy employs near-infrared light, which is absorbed by the mitochondria. This absorption process is believed to increase neurotrophic factors, stimulate blood flow, and decrease inflammation—all of which can have a positive impact on brain function.


The therapy is premised on the theory of dual-brain psychology, which posits that one side of the brain is more affected by addiction than the other. The dominant side for addiction is determined using vision, and light therapy is then applied to stimulate the less dependent side of the brain. This approach aims to promote better habits and balance in the individual.

One well-structured study investigated the application of unilateral transcranial photobioimodulation using an LED device in treating opioid addiction. The study used a sham treatment group to compare the effects of light therapy. The group that received light therapy experienced significant decreases in opioid cravings.


One of the significant achievements of the study was its ability to control for patients' perception of whether the treatment was effective or not. Both the active and sham treatments led to a 44-45% decrease in cravings immediately after the treatment. This indicates the presence of a placebo effect.


However, when the researchers assessed the patients one week post-treatment, they found significant differences between the active and sham treatments: The active group had a 53% decrease in cravings, compared to only 17% in the sham group. Moreover, the reduction in cravings was stronger three weeks after the active treatment.


These findings suggest that light therapy has a real, measurable impact on brain function in relation to opioid addiction. The research also showed that treating the more involved hemisphere of the brain yielded better results in reducing opioid cravings.


This study demonstrated that light therapy could be a viable method for reducing cravings and helping individuals overcome addiction. The treatment only took around four minutes and was conducted twice weekly for four weeks. Although the placebo effect was present in the sham group, it was not as effective as the actual light therapy, underscoring the potential effectiveness of this approach.


Another study’s findings suggest that combining unilateral photobiomodulation with a medication-based approach like buprenorphine can also be a promising strategy for dealing with opioid-use disorder. The study showed a significant 71% improvement in cravings for patients who received light therapy, as opposed to a 35% reduction for the sham group.

While further research is needed to develop consistently reliable protocols, these studies may serve as templates for effectively treating opioid addiction.


The Future of Opioid Addiction Treatment

Light therapy is a non-invasive treatment option for opioid addiction that does not pose the risk of creating a new addiction. This is a significant advantage over most current treatment options.


As the research progresses, there is potential for patients to use LED devices at home for self-maintenance, making the treatment more accessible and convenient. This promising treatment could be a game-changer in the fight against opioid addiction!


The opioid crisis remains an urgent and complex problem with far-reaching consequences. Current treatments are often inadequate, necessitating alternative approaches. Non-opioid medications, holistic treatments, and noninvasive methods like light therapy are promising solutions. Light therapy, in particular, has shown significant potential in reducing opioid cravings, and this treatment option could be a more accessible and convenient treatment option that can help battle the opioid crisis.



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