Magnetic Stimulation, a Promising Alternative for Nicotine

In a groundbreaking study, researchers from the University Of Missouri School Of Medicine revealed that theta-burst transcranial magnetic stimulation (TBS) can enhance self-control, reduce cravings, and ultimately lead to decreased smoking among individuals struggling with nicotine dependence.

Nicotine addiction often leads to significant structural and functional disparities in the brains of affected individuals compared to non-smokers. Notably, smokers tend to exhibit reduced grey matter, indicating fewer neurons and other brain cells. These distinctions are believed to influence inhibitory control (IC), which governs our ability to resist impulsive urges and react to stimuli. IC is crucial for suppressing the impulse to smoke in response to various cues and environmental triggers.


Lead author Brett Froeliger, PhD, a professor of Psychiatry, emphasized the role of IC in smoking behaviour, stating, “Having difficulties with IC may make it harder to avoid smoking when the urge arises, in response to all the cues and contexts in the environment that trigger the behaviour to light a cigarette.”

Theta-burst transcranial magnetic stimulation involves the application of intense magnetic field pulses to the brain in bursts of three, with two main variants: continuous TBS (cTBS) and intermittent TBS (iTBS). cTBS delivers three bursts repeatedly for 40 seconds, while iTBS administers the same number of pulses irregularly over a period exceeding 190 seconds.

Magnetic stimulation has been successfully employed in the treatment of various mental illnesses and disorders. cTBS has been experimentally tested for generalized anxiety disorder, while iTBS applied to the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, responsible for cognitive processes, and has FDA approval for treating major depressive disorder.

The study involved 37 participants, primarily in their late 40s, and assessed the impact of both cTBS and iTBS on the right inferior frontal gyrus, a brain region closely associated with IC. The results revealed that cTBS effectively improved IC, while both cTBS and iTBS reduced cravings and, consequently, the consumption of cigarettes.


Froeliger emphasized the potential significance of treatments that enhance IC, suggesting they could aid in smoking cessation and reducing relapse rates. Moreover, such treatments may hold promise for individuals with other substance use disorders. However, further research is required to explore the clinical applicability of TBS in substance use disorder treatments.


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