Sheffer said she could foresee TMS being an option for smokers, to be used along with behavioral counseling. "I think it is important to stress that it is unlikely that any form of brain stimulation -- or any treatment for that matter -- is going to affect cessation without behavioral treatment," Sheffer said.
The findings are based on 16 smokers who had no designs on quitting, but agreed to undergo transcranial magnetic stimulation. First, they all viewed four collections of images, one of which was aimed at boosting their nicotine craving -- like images of a smoker lighting up. After seeing each collection, the smokers rated their nicotine craving.
Afterward, the smokers sat through 15 minutes of the brain stimulation treatment, then looked at the images again and rated their desire for nicotine.
To help ensure that any effects of the transcranial magnetic stimulation were real, Li's team also had each smoker go through the whole process on a separate day, but with a "sham" version of transcranial magnetic stimulation. The fake device looked and sounded like the real thing, and also gave smokers the same sensation in the scalp. But it didn't deliver the electrical current.
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 s
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