Recent research has shown that magnetic waves could be used to treat drug addiction in a process known as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Early testing has shown the technique to be remarkably effective. Scientists have been comparing the TMS technique to another technique that has already been proven to treat drug addiction in animals.
Another relatively new technique known as optogenetics functions by introducing light-sensitive proteins into the brain. The proteins are then activated with light beams to influence the parts of the brain that are most heavily associated with addiction. This technique has already been used to successfully treat drug addiction in lab mice.
Researchers believe that the process of optogenetics functions in a similar manner as TMS, which is already known to be safe for humans. University of Padua physicians hypothesized that TMS could be used to treat drug addiction in humans, just like optogenetics was used in rats.
From there, the Padua doctors started a new study that examined the effects of TMS on cocaine addictions. Human subjects who were addicted to cocaine had a magnetic device placed near their skull. This device sent painless magnetic waves over five consecutive days. From there patients received one treatment per week for the next three weeks.
The study was very small, only featuring 29 subjects. However, the results were exciting as 10 of the 13 patients who received only TMS as their treatment method showed “significant improvement” in terms of their cravings.
Co-author of the study Antonello Bonci said, “I have met with these patients, I have seen them, I have seen their families. They are alive, they are well. Something has clearly happened to these people.”
TMS has existed for nearly three decades, but it has been mostly used to treat depression. In recent years, scientists have studied its effects on OCD, Parkinson’s, epilepsy and persistent migraines. However, the results have generally been mixed. But the technique has shown a large amount of potential for treating addictive behaviors such as alcoholism, smoking, binge-eating and drug use.
It is still unknown how exactly TMS works. Some believe that it might stimulate the production of dopamine to make addiction more bearable. Others believe that it disrupts the craving signals of the brain. However, it could just be a placebo effect, as most of the addicts who have participated in the very early studies have been “treatment seekers” who actively want to improve their situation.
Bonci added, “This is a pilot study. We have a lot of work to do. I think that we will know, in just a few years, if this will become an accepted treatment.”
For now, Bonci is currently planning a much larger, placebo-controlled double-blind study to see if TMS does indeed prove to be viable in treating cocaine addicts. The results of that experiment should offer a much better idea of how effective TMS is in treating addiction. But for now, the treatment looks extremely promising.