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Smoking Cessation Health Center

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Magnetic Brain Stimulation May Help Smokers Quit

Study of experimental treatment shows some success at six months


Dr. Alan Manevitz, a clinical psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said, "It's a very effective treatment for depression and anxiety."

Manevitz thinks using it to help people stop smoking makes sense. Other studies, he noted, have found that stimulating an area of the brain called the insula can reduce the desire to smoke.

"Adding brain stimulation to other smoking cessation methods like nicotine substitution might make it even more effective," he said.

When used for depression, magnetic brain stimulation costs from $300 to $350 a session, and the treatment may not be covered by insurance, Manevitz said.

For the treatments, participants wear a helmet fitted with coils that deliver magnetic stimulation to the areas of the brain -- the prefrontal cortex and the insula -- associated with nicotine addiction.

Dan Jacobsen, from the Center for Tobacco Control at North Shore-LIJ Health System in Great Neck, N.Y., thinks the idea is interesting but he doesn't see this becoming a viable treatment option anytime soon.

"This treatment is not a simple procedure," he noted. And the six-month results weren't as good as the success rates for other treatments, including medication and nicotine replacement, combined with behavioral components, he said.

Side effects from the treatment were mild and included headaches or muscle twitching. These symptoms went away with continued treatment, Zangen said. One potentially serious but rare side effect is that brain stimulation can induce a seizure, especially in those prone to epilepsy, he noted.

Data and conclusions presented at meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

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