Nicotine Craving May Be Temporarily Eased by This
Early study tested the noninvasive treatment on smokers
Overall, Li's team found, the real transcranial magnetic stimulation reduced smokers' nicotine craving by close to 30 percent. Their cravings also declined after the phony device, but the decline wasn't statistically significant.
"We don't know how significant this would be in real life," Li said.
The next step, he said, is to see whether a series of brain stimulation treatments over a couple weeks has lasting effects on smokers' cravings. The question of whether the brain stimulation could ultimately affect quit rates will take larger, longer term studies.
Based on what's known from depression treatment, transcranial magnetic stimulation seems safe, Li said. The main side effects are a short-lived headache and scalp discomfort. There also appears to be a small risk of seizure, happening in fewer than one in 1,000 patients.
If transcranial magnetic stimulation were to become an option for smokers, there would also be the issue of cost. When the therapy is used for depression, one session typically costs around $300.
Still, Sheffer said that the more options available to smokers, the better. Right now, the approved treatments include nicotine replacement products, like patches and gums, as well as the prescription drugs varenicline (Chantix) and bupropion (Zyban and generics).
Those options, Sheffer noted, are meant to be used along with behavioral counseling.
According to the American Lung Association, it takes the average smoker five or six "serious attempts" to finally quit. So if one approach fails, the group says, keep trying until you find the combination of therapies that works.