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Fighting cocaine addiction with magnetic brain stimulation

Staff writer ▼ | December 8, 2015
Stimulating part of the brain with magnetic pulses may offer the first therapeutic treatment for cocaine addiction, a small new study suggests.
Addiction   Eight sessions of the experimental treatment
Though the findings are preliminary, patients addicted to cocaine reportedly experienced fewer cravings for the drug after undergoing eight sessions of the experimental treatment over a month.

An estimated 1.4 million Americans suffer from cocaine addiction, according to the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Unlike smoking, alcoholism and other addictions, however, cocaine addiction has no approved treatments, said study co-author Dr. Lorenzo Leggio, chief of clinical psychoneuroendocrinology and neuropsychopharmacology at the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

"Addiction is a brain disease, not so different from schizophrenia and not so different from diabetes," Leggio said.

"One reason we are excited about these findings is that this could open up the possibility for the first time to have a biological basis for a treatment to help patients with cocaine addiction."

The treatment, called repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), works by stimulating the brain's dorsolateral prefrontal cortex with magnetic pulses. This region is involved in controlling inhibition, or impulsive behavior, but it has abnormally low activity in people addicted to cocaine, Leggio said.

"Addiction is a chronic relapsing medical disorder, not bad behavior," Leggio said. "People who use cocaine and other drugs know when they use drugs that it could be dangerous for them and that they can die, but they use in spite of the consequences."