Brain stimulation could make it way easier for people to quit smoking

It’s not as Black Mirror as it sounds.

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Somebody Call D.A.R.E.

Over 30 million adults in America smoke cigarettes. Unfortunately, that number doesn’t seem to be going down, either because — as ironic as it might seem given the respiratory risk — smoking appeared to have made a comeback during the COVID pandemic. Despite all we know about why we shouldn’t smoke, it’s notoriously difficult to “just stop.” But this new non-invasive brain stimulation treatment may help smokers quit.

In a study published yesterday in the journal Addiction, researchers analyzed seven studies about non-invasive brain stimulation (NIBS) and smoking cessation. Researchers looked at the data of 699 participants, half of whom received NIBS treatment. The other half got a placebo. Researchers determined that people who had NIBS treatment were more than twice as likely to remain abstinent from cigarettes three to six months after, according to the study.

This could be major progress, since recent research suggests that smokers who want to quit end up trying to quit more than 30 times before they’re successful. “We feel confident in suggesting that NIBS is a technique of interest for both short-term and sustained smoking cessation,” Benjamin Petit, a physician at the University Hospital of Dijon and lead author on the study, told Medical Express.

If the idea of brain stimulation sounds like horror movie fodder for you, well, you can relax a bit. NIBS is nothing like old-fashioned shock treatment. While it works by sending electromagnetic impulses into the brain, experts agree that it’s both safe and painless for restoring lost brain function or compensating for a loss of function. When NIBS is used to treat addiction, scientists target the parts of the brain that are known to create symptoms of substance misuse disorder.

While scientists have been exploring the possibility of using brain stimulation to help people experiencing addiction for a while, it’s not yet a widely available treatment. But, given its potential to help so many, researchers are hopeful that it will be. “In the near future, NIBS might be recognized as a promising new option for assisting individuals who wish to stop smoking,” Petit told Medical Express. Personally, I will be the first to sign up for this sci-fi style approach to tackling a very old school issue.