Meditation Reduces Cigarette Consumption, Curbs Cravings

Caroline Cassels

August 07, 2013

Just 2 weeks of mindfulness meditation training help reduce smoking and craving for cigarettes, new research suggests.

Results from a study conducted by investigators at the University of Oregon in Eugene showed that integrative body-mind training (IBMT) helped curtail cigarette consumption by up to 60% in smokers who underwent 5 hours of training during a 2-week period. In comparison, a control group who underwent relaxation therapy showed no reduction in smoking.

"We found that participants who received IBMT training also experienced a significant decrease in their craving for cigarettes," study coauthor Yi-Yuan Tang, MD, PhD, formerly a research professor at the University of Oregon and current director of the Neuroimaging Institute in Amarillo, Texas, said in a release.

"Because mindfulness meditation promotes personal control and has been shown to positively affect attention and an openness to internal and external experiences, we believe that meditation may be helpful for coping with symptoms of addiction," Dr. Tang added.

The study was published online August 5 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Self-control Deficit

With more than 5 million deaths a year attributable to tobacco smoking, effective, short-term interventions to reduce smoking and cravings are urgently needed, the researchers note.

One reason for substance abuse and addiction may involve a lack of self-control, which raises the question of whether an intervention to improve self-control could change smoking behavior.

The researchers point out that mindfulness training has shown some proof of efficacy in substance abuse, but a lack of adequate control conditions, failure to randomize participants, and a failure to assess biological markers of change have limited the research.

IBMT has been shown to reduce stress, increase positive emotion, and improve attention and self-control after a few hours of practice compared with the same amount of relaxation training.

To determine whether IBMT could influence self-control via the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and adjacent prefrontal cortex function (PFC) and help smokers reduce tobacco use, the investigators conducted a randomized controlled trial. They advertised for volunteers who wished to reduce stress and improve performance.

Among the respondents were 27 smokers and 33 nonsmokers. All participants were randomly assigned to receive either IBMT or relaxation training. Both groups received 2 weeks of training for a total of 5 hours.

All participants were tested for carbon monoxide levels before and after the study interventions. The researchers also used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify brain mechanisms related to smoking reduction.

Imaging Results

Imaging revealed that before IBMT, smokers had a reduction in activity in the ACC and PFC as well as other brain areas. However, after 2 weeks, activity in the ACC, the medial PFC, and the inferior frontal gyrus/ventrolateral PFC increased.

At 2- and 4-week follow-up, 5 of the responding smokers whose smoking had been significantly reduced after IBMT reported that the effect had been maintained.

The researchers note that IBMT's ability to enhance self-control may make it a useful tool to reduce smoking and craving "even in those who have no intention to quit smoking."

They add it may also be useful in the treatment of other addictions.

IBMT "does not force participants to resist craving or quit smoking; instead, it focuses on improving self-control capacity to handle craving and smoking behavior."

However, these are early findings, and more research is needed.

"We cannot say how long the effect of reduced smoking will last," said study coauthor Michael Posner, MD.

"This is an early finding, but an encouraging one. It may be that for the reduction or quitting to have a lasting effect, smokers will need to continue to practice meditation for a longer time period," he added.

The authors report no relevant financial relationships.

Proc Natl Acad Sci. Published online August 5, 2013. Abstract


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