Use of qigong therapy in the detoxification of heroin addicts

Altern Ther Health Med. Jan-Feb 2002;8(1):50-4, 56-9.


Context: Qigong is a traditional Chinese health practice believed to have special healing and recovery power. Little scientific documentation was found on qigong and its effectiveness, and no literature was found on qigong as a treatment of substance addiction.

Objective: To explore the effectiveness of qigong therapy on detoxification of heroin addicts compared to medical and nonmedical treatment.

Design: Participants were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 groups: qigong treatment group (n = 34), medication group (n = 26), and no-treatment control group (n = 26).

Participants: Eighty-six male heroin addicts, aged 18 to 52 years, who met the substance-dependence criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Third Edition Revised, with a history of heroin use from .5 to 11 years. All were residents at a mandatory drug-treatment center in the People's Republic of China.

Intervention: The qigong group practiced Pan Gu qigong and received qi adjustments from a qigong master daily. The medication group received the detoxification drug lofexidine-HCl by a 10-day gradual reduction method. The control group received only basic care and medications to treat severe withdrawal symptoms.

Measures: Urine morphine test, electrocardiogram, Hamilton Anxiety Scale, and a withdrawal-symptom evaluation scale were applied before and during the 10-day intervention.

Results: Reduction of withdrawal symptoms in the qigong group occurred more rapidly than in the other groups. From day 1, the qigong group had significantly lower mean symptom scores than did the other groups (P <.01). Both the qigong and medication groups had much lower anxiety scores than did the control group (P<.01), and the qigong group had significantly lower anxiety scores than did the medication group (P<.01). All subjects had a positive response to the urine morphine test before treatment. Fifty percent of the qigong group had negative urine tests on day 3, compared to 23% in the control group and 8% in the medication group (P <.01). By day 5 of treatment, all subjects in the qigong group had negative urine tests, compared to day 9 for the medication group and day 11 for the control group.

Conclusions: Results suggest that qigong may be an effective alternative for heroin detoxification without side effects, though we cannot completely eliminate the possibility of the placebo effect from the current study.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Anxiety / chemically induced
  • Breathing Exercises*
  • Clonidine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Clonidine / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Heroin Dependence / drug therapy
  • Heroin Dependence / therapy*
  • Heroin Dependence / urine
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medicine, Chinese Traditional
  • Middle Aged
  • Morphine / urine
  • Narcotic Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Narcotics / urine
  • Patient Selection
  • Research Design
  • Single-Blind Method
  • Substance Withdrawal Syndrome / etiology
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Narcotics
  • Morphine
  • Clonidine
  • lofexidine