Kappa-opioids produce significantly greater analgesia in women than in men

Nat Med. 1996 Nov;2(11):1248-50. doi: 10.1038/nm1196-1248.


Sex differences in human responses to nociceptive stimuli and painful pathological conditions have generally indicated that women report higher pain levels or exhibit less tolerance than men for given stimulus intensities (reviewed in ref. 1 and 2). However, studies have not evaluated sex differences in analgesic responses. We recently reported that the opioid agonist-antagonist pentazocine, which acts predominantly at kappa-receptors, produced significantly better postoperative analgesia in females than in males in patients who underwent surgery for the removal of their third molars (wisdom teeth). In the current study, we evaluated the hypothesis that this sex difference is a characteristic of kappa-opioid agonism. In order to determine whether there are sex differences associated with kappa-opioid agonism, the analgesic efficacy of two other predominantly kappa-opioid analgesics, nalbuphine and butorphanol; was compared in males and females who underwent surgery for the removal of third molar teeth. We found that both nalbuphine and butorphanol produced significantly greater analgesia in females as compared with males. Considering our earlier findings, we conclude that kappa-opioid analgesia is greater in females than in males, probably reflecting a difference in kappa-opioid-activated endogenous pain modulating circuits.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Analgesia*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / pharmacology*
  • Butorphanol / adverse effects
  • Butorphanol / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Molar, Third / surgery*
  • Nalbuphine / adverse effects
  • Nalbuphine / pharmacology*
  • Narcotics / metabolism
  • Receptors, Opioid, kappa / metabolism
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Time Factors


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Narcotics
  • Receptors, Opioid, kappa
  • Nalbuphine
  • Butorphanol