Smokers Trying to Quit May Be Helped by Noninvasive Magnetic Brain Stimulation

Smokers trying to quit may be helped by a noninvasive technique that involves magnetic brain stimulation, according to Israeli researchers.

The technique, which sends electric impulses to the brain, is sometimes used to treat depression, HealthDay reports. The study included 115 smokers who had smoked at least a pack a day and had failed at least two previous attempts at quitting.

Participants were divided into three groups. One group received high-frequency magnetic brain stimulation, a second group received low-frequency stimulation, and the third group received a placebo treatment. In each group, some participants saw a picture of a lit cigarette just before stimulation. The visual cue was designed to ensure participants were thinking about smoking and not some other craving. All participants received 13 treatments.

The researchers found 44 percent of participants receiving the highest level of stimulation and the visual cues had quit smoking. After six months, one-third of this group was still not smoking, compared with 28 percent of those not shown the visual cue.

The study results were presented this week at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

Lead researcher Abraham Zangen of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer-Sheva, Israel, noted magnetic brain stimulation is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treating depression, but not for quitting smoking.

“If you stimulate regions in the brain that are associated with craving for drugs, you can change the circuitry in the brain that mediates this dependence and eventually reduce smoking,” he said. “And many of those treated stop smoking.”

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