In 2008, the US Food and Drug Administration approved the use of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) in treating depression. But now, researchers are pushing boundaries to also use TMS for drug addiction.
How TMS Works
TMS is a non-invasive method of stimulating the brain’s nerve cells. In a typical TMS session, electromagnetic pulses are delivered on the patient’s scalp. These pulses increase neural activity in the brain. The frequency, duration, and pattern of the pulses varies depending on what is best for the patient. In most cases, TMS is used to treat mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety as well as to help those who have had a stroke or suffer from migraines.
Luigi Gallimberti, an Italian addiction physician has treated more than 300 cocaine addicts using TMS therapy. Gallimberti was inspired by a study of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The study shows how stimulating the brains of drug-addicted rats can stop the addiction.
Scientist genetically modified the brain of the rats to allow their neurons to be controlled. This makes them susceptible in getting addicted to cocaine. The rats seek out cocaine insistently to the point that they can withstand repeated electric shocks just to get to the drug.
Using TMS on Rats
When NIDA researchers stimulated the brain of these rates using impulse control, their urges significantly dropped or disappeared completely.
The co-authors of the study, Antonello Bonci, and Billy Chen suggested that stimulating the corresponding area in the human brain can stop addiction. The neuroscientists believed that targeting the prefrontal cortex of the human brain can offset addiction in people.
Bonci believed that the stimulation of the brain can be done using TMS. This gave Gallimbert the idea to use TMS as an addiction treatment.
TMS Treatment for Addiction
Gallimbert started out with 32 participants to test TMS therapy in treating cocaine addiction. His small study gave him positive results and he began offering TMS as a treatment. He offered TMS for about $118 per session and dropped the fee completely for people who couldn’t afford it.
Soon after his trials, Gallimbert and Bonci conducted another study. The TMS trials for 16 cocaine users in the second set of testing showed promising results.
Sparking a Trend
Gallimbert’s study sparked more types of research using TMS to treat people suffering from addiction. Currently, three studies are being conducted to fully understand the method on drug addiction.
Last year, the Medical University of South Carolina started their first randomized, double-blind trial of TMS on drug addiction. Another similar study in Mexico also started this year headed by the National Institute of Psychiatry.
By 2018, NIDA will conduct a pilot study concentrating TMS’s effectiveness on cocaine addiction in a controlled trial involving 60 cocaine users.
At least 13 million people worldwide suffer from cocaine addiction. Almost a million people are addicted to cocaine in the US alone. TMS therapy is already showing to be a potential cure to treat different kinds of substance abuse. If the current trials succeed, TMS would be beneficial to people with all kinds of addictions, particularly cocaine users.
Drug addiction remains one of the most difficult behaviors to remedy. Traditional treatments hold about 80% relapse rate. After more research, TMS is proving to offer cocaine users a very effective non-invasive treatment fairly soon.