Migraine patients would like nothing more than to be able to flip a switch and make their pain disappear. It sounds fanciful, but new research is showing that such a switch might not be too far off. For the past several years, Mohad Ibrahim, PhD, MD, director of the University of Arizona’s comprehensive pain management clinic, has been investigating non-pharmaceutical treatments for chronic migraine pain through an unconventional pathway—green light.

Two years ago, Dr. Ibrahim and his team found that repeated exposure to 525nm wavelength green light reduced migraine-related pain reactions in rats.1 The catch, they found, was that the rats needed to experience the light via the visual pathway, suggesting a neuro-ophthalmic connection to relieving migraines.1 The researchers believe the effect is mediated through the endogenous opioids and cannabinoid system.1,2

The team is seeing similar results in humans enrolled in an ongoing clinical trial.2 Participants are being asked to take green LED lights home and sit in a dark room with the lights on for two hours daily for three months.2 In addition to migraine-related pain, the investigators are evaluating for the green LED light’s usefulness in wound healing, temporomandibular joint dysfunction pain and back pain.2 

The research is getting attention from mainstream press, such as National Public Radio, where Dr. Ibrahim recently discussed his previous findings and ongoing trial.3 The investigation is slated to run until December 2020.2

1. Ibrahim M, Patwardhan A, Gilbraith K, et al. Long-lasting antinociceptive effects of green light in acute and chronic pain in rats. Pain. 2017;158(2):347-60.

2. Ibrahim M, Patwardhan A. The effect of light therapy on chronic pain. Clinical Trials. clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03677206. September 26, 2019. Accessed December 19, 2019.

3. King N. Researchers explore a drug-free idea to relieve chronic pain: green light. National Public Radio. www.npr.org/transcripts/787138928. December 15, 2019.