Can TMS Therapy Help Addiction?

Addiction treatment is a constantly evolving science as researchers discover options that are more effective than anything previously available. Smoking is one of the hardest addictions that one can attempt to beat. The dangers of smoking are nothing new. The Centers for Disease Control estimated that about 17 percent of adults, or 40 million people, smoke cigarettes regularly in 2014. The habit is the leading cause of preventable death in U.S., accounting for 480,000 deaths a year.

Countless studies indicate most those who regularly smoke want to quit. Whether using medications, nicotine replacement (patches, gums) or talk therapy, smoking cessation provides the smoker a variety of options. The American Cancer Society states that ” about 4% to 7% of people are able to quit smoking on any given attempt without medicines or other help.” The remaining majority often pick up smoking again, often within 2-3 months.

A person becomes addicted to cigarettes because brain pathways are rewired as a result of repeated nicotine exposure. The nicotine-induced rewiring of emotional, motivational, and cognitive brain circuits leads to the need for continued, repeated, nicotine exposure in order for the addicted person to avoid very uncomfortable emotional and physical withdrawal symptoms.

One method that is emerging as a proven option, particularly in smoking cessation, is transcranial magnetic stimulation.

What is Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation?

Transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, is gaining prominence as a reliable tool to help smokers quit kick the nicotine habit. TMS was intended for patients with severe depression disorders where medication and other techniques have proven ineffective. Since nicotine addiction produces intense cravings in brain regions associated with brain disorders, doctors studied its potential as a smoking cessation alternative.

Medication like Wellbutrin and Chantix reduce nicotine cravings by altering brain chemistry. TMS, however, works through triggering the nerves in regions of the human brain that produce cravings. The technique uses a combination of low- and high-frequency electricity to stimulate the brain regions where addictive cravings originate. TMS Therapy for Smoking Cessation

How Does TMS Work?

Unlike electroconvulsive therapy, which has been used in cases of extreme mood-disorder cases, TMS does not require general anesthesia or cause seizures. The TMS process begins through generating an electrical current through a device that is attached to the patient’s scalp. The current targets the region of the brain known as the dorsal prefrontal cortex, which is where cravings originate.

David Gorelick, M.D., Ph.D., a clinician at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, says researchers begin the TMS process by locating the appropriate brain region to stimulate. A patient is given an MRI while looking at smoking-related photos. The brain scans are compared with scans taken with neutral cues to identify the brain regions activated by smoking cues. Once the target location in each person is mapped, he or she receives daily TMS sessions.

Promising Discovery

The National Institutes of Health in 2014 confirmed the validity of TMS. Heavy smokers—those who smoke at least 20 cigarettes a day—and had failed previous treatments, received 13 daily sessions of the TMS, both low- and high-frequency doses, while in the presence of smoking cues. Researchers discovered that the high-frequency regimens, or deep TMS, reduced cigarette cravings to an abstinence rate of 44% at the end of the treatment and about 33% remained so six months following the treatment.

A more intense TMS technique is currently under development. Brainsway, a company that pioneered TMS therapy, and FDA approval for their work in 2012, is conducting studies on a Deep TMS process. This high-frequency process goes deeper into brain regions that impact mental health. To date, Deep TMS has been tested in 60 clinical trials worldwide. One such trial indicated a significant reduction in symptoms of 230 enrolled patients.

For those interested in deep transcranial magnetic stimulation as a smoking cessation tool in Los Angeles, Westside Neurotherapeutics, provides these treatments to stop smoking . For more information, contact the company by phone at 310.946.0008 or online at

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