Consequences of Smoking with Chronic Pain


A study published in Human Brain Mapping in 2014 concluded that smoking increases the risk and intensity of pain. In this study, researchers studied 68 individuals with back pain lasting 4-12 weeks, as well as 24 individuals with chronic back pain and 35 healthy individuals. They were given a questionnaire to evaluate their pain using provided descriptors, medication usage, and their current mood using provided descriptors. These questions were asked twice, at the beginning of the study and one year later, and two types of brain scans were also collected at these visits. The results indicated that smoking status directly predicted the persistence of pain. 

Here is where things get interesting: while pain medication and anti-inflammatory drugs did help patients with pain management, they did not alter the circuitry of the brain. This provided very strong evidence for the link between the brain addiction circuitry, smoking, and pain. 

More recently, a study published in bioRxiv in February 2017 used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to show the effect of smoking on the brain. fMRI imaging revealed that smoking electronic cigarettes basically turns on many regions of the brain that control motor skills and emotions, validating the feelings of satisfaction that smoking causes. By stimulating the brain’s emotional center, the amygdala, this could contribute to the addiction that smokers face. Taken together, the research published in 2014 and 2017 show strong evidence that smoking has the potential to make chronic pain symptoms worse. 

Smoking can interfere with treatment for chronic pain by increasing your sensitivity to pain and the perception of pain.