Quitting smoking poses significant problems for most people due to their addiction to nicotine. A method has now been developed which, with the help of magnetic field pulses, reduces the desire to smoke and at the same time significantly improves self-control, making it much easier to give up smoking.
A new study involving experts from the University of Missouri examined the behavioral and neural effects of intermittent transcranial magnetic stimulation and continuous transcranial magnetic stimulation in people addicted to nicotine. The results are published in the English-language journal “Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging”.
Smoking changes the brain
Nicotine addicts usually have significant structural and functional differences in the brain compared to healthy people, the researchers explain. For example, smoking has been proven to be associated with a decline in gray matter.
According to the team, it is precisely these differences in the structure of the brain that can affect the so-called inhibitory control, which normally regulates an impulsive reaction to urges and stimuli.
Why it’s so hard to quit smoking
“Difficulties with inhibitory control may result in it being more difficult to avoid smoking when the urge arises in response to all the cues and contexts in the environment that trigger the behavior,” explains study author Dr . Brett Froeliger in a press release.
How does transcranial magnetic stimulation work?
In the study, the researchers now tested to what extent this can be counteracted by magnetic stimulation of the brain. They used transcranial magnetic stimulation, which involves applying magnetic pulses to the brain.
A distinction is made between continuous transcranial magnetic stimulation, in which three pulses are repeatedly delivered to the brain for 40 seconds, and intermittent transcranial magnetic stimulation. In this form of treatment, the same number of pulses are applied at irregular intervals for more than 190 seconds, the researchers explain.
Treatment of mental illnesses through magnetic stimulation
According to the team, magnetic stimulation has previously been used to treat other mental illnesses and disorders, such as continuous transcranial magnetic stimulation for anxiety disorders.
Intermittent transcranial magnetic stimulation of the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex has even been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of major depressive disorders.
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Increased self-control and reduced cravings for nicotine
The current study found that continuous transcranial magnetic stimulation can also improve inhibitory control.
In addition, both intermittent transcranial magnetic stimulation and continuous transcranial magnetic stimulation were shown to reduce the desire to smoke cigarettes, the team said.
The results of the new research suggest that transcranial magnetic stimulation could be an effective way to treat addiction to cigarettes by improving self-control and reducing cravings for cigarettes, the researchers add.
“Identifying treatments that improve inhibitory control can help reduce smoking and potentially prevent relapse when a person tries to quit smoking,” emphasizes Dr. Froeliger.
Magnetic stimulation to treat drug addiction?
According to the expert, improving inhibitory control could also potentially help break the cycle of drug use in people with substance use disorders. Before that, however, further research is necessary. (as)