Using Neuromodulation to Help Smokers Quit

isabel leming

by Isabel Leming, TMS Technician

Isabel Leming explains how rTMS can help smokers to beat their nicotine addiction.

Learn how repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation could help stop smoking.

“Nicotine is a highly addictive substance that can lead to a range of health problems, including coronary heart disease, stroke and lung cancer.

“In 2016 15.5% of adults in the UK aged 18 + were regular cigarette smokers. Whilst many of these people have a desire to quit smoking and some have attempted to kick the habit, over 90% will relapse within 12 months. What’s more, it takes the average smoker five attempts to quit before they achieve permanent success.

“This is, in the most part, due to the cravings and unpleasant side effects experienced as a result of withdrawal. People will find themselves stuck in an addictive cycle, consisting mostly of two main factors: compulsivity and impulsivity, which are characterised by three successive stages:

  • Binge / intoxication
  • Withdrawal / negative affect
  • Preoccupation / anticipation, also known as the “Craving stage”

smoking cancer risk“The reward system and brain regions involved in this addictive cycle are located in the prefrontal cortex (PFC). In particular, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) has been linked to addiction due to its significant role in executive control. Furthermore, research has shown a significant decrease in activity in this reward system and the DLPFC in smokers.

“Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) has been shown to successfully modulate the activity in these regions of the brain through neuromodulation and has been utilized as a NICE approved treatment for depression since 2015. As a result, TMS is now being developed as a treatment for nicotine addiction as well as cocaine, amphetamine and alcohol addiction (

What is TMS?

“TMS is a non-invasive, safe method of stimulating the brain’s neurons. During treatment the nerve cells are simulated by a magnetic field, created by a magnetic coil which is placed over a specific area of the brain – in this case, the DLPFC. This region, shown to be significant in addiction, can now be modulated through TMS.

“The treatment doesn’t require any anaesthesia or restrictions to activity after treatment. Better still, it does not cause the same side effects associated with many medications and no long-term side effects have been reported. Some minor side effects that may be experienced the day of treatment can include mild headaches, tiredness, and muscle tension at the application site on the scalp. A typical treatment course for nicotine addiction consists of one, thirty-minute treatment session a day, five days a week, for two weeks. This will generally be followed by a tail-off period.”


“The first research in to the efficacy of TMS in nicotine-dependent subjects was conducted on fourteen treatment-seeking smokers. Participants were given either TMS or sham stimulation and their cigarette consumption was recorded. The results showed that high-frequency TMS of left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex reduced cigarette smoking significantly in the active stimulation compared with sham stimulation participants. Following these promising initial results, further work showed that TMS was also able to significantly reduce cravings and dependence on cigarettes.

“Here at Smart TMS, we have had some notable successes with treating other addictions, so we are hopeful that introducing TMS as a treatment for nicotine addiction will help smokers quit the habit.”

Smart TMS

Smart TMS was established in 2015, dedicated to providing TMS treatment in London at their South Kensington/Brompton Cross centre. The company opened a second clinic in Birmingham in September 2017 and also has a base in Northampton.  The first Irish clinic was opened in Dublin in October 2017.  Smart TMS is planning further locations for Manchester and Bristol in 2018.


For any queries or for patients wishing to book an appointment at one of our UK clinics, please contact us:

Tel:  0345 222 5678


Irish patients may contact Our Dublin Clinic direct on:


Tel:  353 (01) 254 2514