Acute analgesic effects of nicotine and tobacco in humans: a meta-analysis

Pain. 2016 Jul;157(7):1373-1381. doi: 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000000572.


Although animal models have consistently demonstrated acute pain inhibitory effects of nicotine and tobacco, human experimental studies have yielded mixed results. The main goal of this meta-analysis was to quantify the effects of nicotine/tobacco administration on human experimental pain threshold and tolerance ratings. A search of PubMed and PsycINFO online databases identified 13 eligible articles, including k = 21 tests of pain tolerance (N = 393) and k = 15 tests of pain threshold (N = 339). Meta-analytic integration for both threshold and tolerance outcomes revealed that nicotine administered through tobacco smoke and other delivery systems (eg, patch, nasal spray) produced acute analgesic effects that may be characterized as small to medium in magnitude (Hedges g = 0.35, 95% confidence interval = 0.21-0.50). Publication bias-corrected estimates remained significant and indicated that these effects may be closer to small. Sex composition was observed to be a significant moderator, such that pain threshold effects were more robust among samples that included more men than women. These results help to clarify a mixed literature and may ultimately help to inform the treatment of both pain and nicotine dependence. Pain and tobacco smoking are both highly prevalent and comorbid conditions. Current smoking has been associated with more severe chronic pain and physical impairment. Acute nicotine-induced analgesia could make smoking more rewarding and harder to give up. Future research should use dynamic measures of experimental pain reactivity and further explore biopsychosocial mechanisms of action.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics / pharmacology*
  • Analgesics / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Nicotine / pharmacology*
  • Nicotine / therapeutic use
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • Pain Threshold / drug effects*
  • Tobacco*


  • Analgesics
  • Nicotine