Medical treatments offer new ways to quit smoking – and make it stick
According to the World Health Organization, tobacco causes nearly 6 million deaths per year in developed countries, but most people who try to quit on their own will relapse within a few days.
It's said that George Clooney's new bride, British barrister Amal Alamuddin, quit smoking cold turkey the moment the couple started dating. But without the motivation of an impending wedding to one of the world's most eligible bachelors, most people have a hard time trying to quit.
People who are able to give up the habit for a month are five times more likely to drop the butt for good, experts say, but studies show that two-thirds of smokers who try to quit on their own will relapse within a few days. The World Health Organization says that most smokers who are aware of the dangers of tobacco want to quit and recommends counseling and medication, which can more than double success rates.
“Smoking treatment is the 'gold standard' of cost-effective treatments,” Dr. John R. Hughes wrote in his paper, Motivating and Helping Smokers to Stop Smoking. Modern treatments for quitting smoking go far beyond the nicotine patch, to include acupuncture, laser therapy, a brain helmet and hallucinogenic mushrooms. Here are some of those options.
Patches, gum and spray
Using a nicotine patch or nicotine gum can ease the quitting process. (Photo: Image Point Fr/Flickr)
Smokers' bodies become accustomed to getting regular doses of nicotine. When a person stops smoking abruptly, his or her body experiences withdrawal symptoms like irritability, weight gain and cravings. Nicotine replacement therapy is one of the most common treatments for quitting smoking and comes in different forms, including skin patches, chewing gum and nasal spray.
Doctors can prescribe a customized treatment plan that will help smokers gradually wean their body off cigarettes, but they warn former smokers not to go off nicotine replacement too soon. “One common problem we see is people stopping too early and then experiencing cravings that they can’t resist,” Scott McIntosh, PhD, director of the Greater Rochester Area Tobacco Cessation Center in New York, told WebMD.
There's a pill for that
Chantix (not pictured) and other medications can help with withdrawal symptoms. (Photo: Kinga/Flickr)
Anti-smoking medications such as Chantix have a slightly higher success rate than nicotine replacement therapy – around 33 percent of smokers who use the drug are able to stay off cigarettes. But the potential side effects are a source of worry – nausea, flatulence, abnormal dreams, depression and suicidal thoughts. While the less serious side effects generally go away over time, doctors encourage patients to monitor their moods and be wary of any noticeable changes that might be dangerous.
Medications are usually prescribed for a 12-week period, with a “quit day” set for one to two weeks into treatment. There is also an option of a second 12-week maintenance course to ensure patients don't start smoking again.
E-cigarettes: Are they safer?
E-cigarettes have been found to be safer than regular cigarettes, but not completely risk-free. (Photo: Joseph Morris/Flickr)
In a recent study published in the May issue of Addiction, British researchers found that people who wanted to quit smoking were 60 percent more likely to succeed using electronic cigarettes rather than nicotine replacement therapy, anti-smoking medications or willpower alone. E-cigarettes mimic real cigarettes by producing a vapor that delivers nicotine to the user's body, reducing cravings and withdrawal symptoms (not all e-cigarettes contain nicotine).
Some reports suggest that e-cigarettes may contain other harmful byproducts that could lead to cancer, but advocates say the benefits of quitting smoking outweigh the risks. “In the long run, I think you are better off quitting than not quitting, even if e-cigarettes are the way that you quit. Then we can worry about how to get people off e-cigarettes,” Dr. Michael Siegel, a professor of community health sciences at Boston University School of Public Health, told HealthDay. Siegel did not take part in the study.
Training your brain to quit
The Brainsway helmet is back, and this time it’s helping people quit smoking. The Brainsway device was originally developed to treat depression, but the company is now testing various versions of the machine to treat almost two dozen conditions, including chronic pain, Alzheimer's disease and obsessive-compulsive disorder, as well as smoking.
A study published in Biological Psychiatry this summer showed that 44 percent of heavy smokers who had failed to quit smoking using other methods were finally able to quit using the Brainsway system. The machine uses a technique called deep TMS to stimulate the areas of the brain that are involved in creating addictive cravings with a magnetic current, to trigger the release of dopamine. Dopamine is reduced during withdrawal from tobacco, making it harder to quit smoking.
"If you stimulate regions in the brain that are associated with craving for drugs, you can change the circuitry in the brain that mediates this dependence and eventually reduce smoking," Professor Abraham Zangen, a brain scientist at Israel's Ben-Gurion University who helped to invent the machine, told HealthDay. "And many of those treated stop smoking."
Psilocybin cubensis mushroom (Photo: Kristie Gianopulos/Flickr)
Researchers at Johns Hopkins recently studied psilocybin, the psychedelic compound in magic mushrooms, and its effectiveness in helping people quit smoking. Their findings were published last month in the Journal of Psychopharmacology. While a small study, they reported an 80 percent success rate – 13 of the study's 15 participants were able to quit smoking and remain smoke-free for six months.
Participants were prepped for the study using standard behavior therapy including visualization, journals and focusing on one's reasons for quitting, before they were each underwent three psilocybin sessions. Participants said the therapy helped to change the way they “prioritize values in life, so that reasons to smoke no longer outweighed reasons to quit.”
Acupuncture, especially in the ear, can help curb cravings. (Photo: 300dpi/Shutterstock)
Jasmine Sufi, co-founder of Acutoronto, a women’s health and fertility clinic based in Toronto, Canada, says acupuncture can help smokers overcome both their craving of cigarettes and the behavioral component of smoking. Auricular acupuncture – that's acupuncture done in the ear – can help target the centers of the body responsible for anxiety, cravings and stress, and stimulation of those areas can help people manage their cravings while lessening withdrawal symptoms, making it easier to give up nicotine.
“Acupuncture is an incredible tool for those needing help with withdrawal symptoms, it provides relief from the common anxieties and cravings while equipping those with the tools needed to achieve their goals of being smoke-free,” she wrote in a blog.
Laser therapy can help curb cravings, along with other treatments. (Photo: Rainer Plendl/Shutterstock)
Researchers at the Canada-based Imagine Laserworks say that laser therapy has up to a 95 percent success rate for helping people quit smoking – and the therapy only takes an hour. The company says its treatment deals with all three aspects of the addiction to smoking: physical, psychological and detoxification.
The treatment uses low-level lasers to first stimulate acupuncture points in the ears, nose, fingers and pituitary gland to induce the brain to produce endorphins, which they say alleviate most nicotine cravings. Therapists also counsel clients to attend to their psychological needs, as well as how to deal with their usual smoking triggers, like what to do after a morning coffee or when spending time around friends who still smoke. The process also offers clients a detoxification formula of various natural supplements to help ease clients through the withdrawal process.
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