Research Mentor Name

Hilary Marusak

Research Mentor Email Address

Institution / Department

Wayne State University School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences

Document Type

Research Abstract

Research Type


Level of Research


Type of Post-Bachelor Degree



Background: Some individuals with opioid use disorder (OUD) report high levels of pain, anxiety, stress and drug craving that may occasion relapse, reduce adherence to treatment, and reduce quality of life. This pilot study evaluated whether a novel martial arts-based intervention can lower self-reported and physiological markers of pain, anxiety, stress and opioid craving in individuals with OUD undergoing methadone maintenance treatment (MMT).

Methods: 15 MMT patients (11 females) completed a 12-week ‘Heroes Circle’ intervention that involved twice-weekly 30-min sessions centering around martial arts-based breathing and meditative techniques using therapist-assisted virtual reality (VR). Patients self-reported on five measures (pain, drug craving, anxiety, depression, anger) using a 0-10 scale before (pre) and after (post) each session. Salivary markers of inflammation (C-reactive protein [CRP]) and stress (cortisol) were collected before and after several sessions (baseline, weeks 4, 8, and 12).

Results: There were significant pre-post session reductions in rated pain, drug craving, anxiety and depression, and saliva cortisol (ps<0.05). For opioid craving, there was also an effect of week such that craving decreased from weeks 1-6, increased from 7-9, and decreased again from 10-12 (ps<0.05); there was also a session x week interaction such that the pre-post reduction in craving reached significance in weeks 1-3 only. There were no significant main effects or interactions for anger or CRP (ps>0.05).

Conclusions: These preliminary results suggest VR-based, martial-arts meditative intervention is a promising approach for reducing pain, anxiety, stress and craving levels among individuals with OUD. Further controlled studies are warranted.


Medicine and Health Sciences