Magnetic stimulation to fight addictions, one above all cocaine. For the first time in the history of medicine, the European Community approves a treatment for addiction to cocaine and many other “drugs” such as alcohol and compulsive gambling.
Even more beautiful is the news that this treatment will be adopted – first center opened in Rimini, Milan will follow on September 1st- following the studies of an Italian researcher, Antonello Bonci, neurologist, former San Francisco professor and director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse from 99 to 2019.
After years of research, Bonci and his team of researchers came to point out with certainty a key factor: the brain retains the cellular memory of the pleasurable behaviors that lead us to develop addictions.
And one sentence, among those he said, we liked so much: “I have seen people with 20 years of addictions turn into 20 days “. Passionate about psychiatry since childhood, flown to the US after specializing in Tor Vergata, Bonci explains the complexity of the human brain – which he analyzes with a particular passion for dopamine (“the molecule most straddling the neurological, mental and psychiatric environment” ) and gives us one serious hope of recovery.
Doctor, then do we have an unconscious cellular memory that sits there silently and activates addictions?
Yes. It was one of the first discoveries, among the most important we made (published in Nature, ed) studying the mechanism on rats: a single exposure to cocaine in low dose is enough, which remains in circulation for only a few hours and the brain already changes “shape” of memory, preserving it in the form of cellular imprinting. When the cocaine disappears, cellular memory remains. This also applies to stress, alcohol and addictions in general. Then, with collaborators at Stanford, we confirmed that these memories settle in silent, unconscious areas and provide for the activation and consolidation of addictions. Of course, not all addiction is triggered, otherwise with every glass of wine or intake of substances, we would have the phenomenon!
Why do some people become addicted and others not?
We are complex systems, very difficult to say with certainty. Some genes predispose people to be more vulnerable to certain addictions. Then, there is the environmental factor (experiences in the family and group of people with whom we interact every day) and personality characteristics: on the one hand, the effects of drugs on the brain, on the other the environment and the characteristics that define the character of each individual. The interaction between these three components is constant and crucial in creating addictive behaviors in some and not in others.
In any case, all drugs act on chemical receptors in the brain, in particular, those found in the limbic system that is the seat of emotions, causing the release of dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline, glutamate and so on.
And can trans-cranial magnetic stimulation block the mechanism?
Transcranial magnetic stimulation allows us to awaken the “sleeping” cells in the frontal cerebral cortex, in a non-invasive way. We have already known this technique since 1985, because it is used for the treatment of depression and obsessive compulsive disorders. We brought it back to life after finding that the concept of brain stimulation worked in animal models. Among other things, thanks to our work, the European Union approved it in April: for the first time in the history of medicine we have a validated treatment for the fight against addictions like that of cocaine.
And this is a very important historical milestone.
Do you already have a case study?
Transcranial magnetic stimulation has already helped over 12 million people in other areas such as depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder. And the data on memory disorders as well as relieving symptoms of conditions such as Parkinson’s disease are equally encouraging. In the context of addictions to cocaine, alcohol and the like, we have applied our method for years, showing that with this non-invasive technique, patients – all with problems related to alcohol, drugs, anxiety, depression or compulsive diseases – reported the same results – a large improvement of symptoms. We have seen people with 20 years of addictions transform in just over 20 days.
But, importantly, the machine is not enough, the patient is accompanied on a complete path, thanks to the equally fundamental support of neuropsychologists, neurologists and psychiatrists, depending on the pathologies.
The typical Iter is first of all in-depth diagnosis, then a therapeutic plan, which can include in an absolutely personalized way brain stimulation protocols, pharmacological treatment, psychologist and therapist expert in cognitive behavioral techniques. Diet, physical activity, mindfulness paths. In summary, we offer all the best that can be offered to every patient in 2021. We opened in Miami in 2020, after Milan we are thinking of Europe.
Special thanks go to my all-Italian team, especially the doctors Zanardi, Mollica, Abbiate and to the doctor Graziella Madeo which was crucial for the approval of the TMS in Europe.