Midazolam as an active placebo in 3 fentanyl-validated nociceptive pain models
The use of inactive placebos in early translational trials of potentially analgesic compounds is discouraged because of the side-effect profiles of centrally acting analgesics. Therefore, benzodiazepines are used, although their use has not been validated in this context. Whether benzodiazepines confound the results of acute pain tests is unknown. Midazolam (0.06 mg/kg) as an active placebo was investigated in 3 nociceptive models that included contact heat, electrical pain, and pressure pain thresholds in 24 healthy volunteers. Fentanyl (1 μg/kg) served as an internal validator in this randomized, placebo (saline) controlled, 3-way cross-over trial. The primary outcome parameter (contact heat pain) was analyzed using a one-way, repeated measures analysis of variance and Tukey's post test. Midazolam did not reduce pain ([numeric rating scale], 0-100) in a statistically significant manner compared with placebo for the contact heat (mean difference −1.7, 95% confidence interval −10.6 to 7.3; P = 0.89) or electrical pain (4.3, −5.1 to 13.7; P = 0.51) test, nor did it raise the pressure pain thresholds (−28 kPa, −122; 64 kPa, P = 0.73). The width of the confidence intervals suggested that there were no clinically meaningful analgesic effects compared with the placebo. In contrast, the analgesic efficacy of fentanyl was effectively demonstrated in all 3 models (P < 0.01 vs midazolam and placebo). The findings of this study show that midazolam can be used as an active placebo in analgesic drug trials. Furthermore, the proposed models were simple to implement and very effective in detecting analgesia. The test battery can be used in translational trials for new compounds and comes with an active placebo and an optional active comparator.