Acupuncture and hypnosis have been promoted as drug-free ways to help smokers kick the habit, and there is some evidence that they work, according to a research review that looked at 14 international studies.
Researchers, whose findings appeared in the American Journal of Medicine, said that there are still plenty of questions, including exactly how effective alternative therapies might be and how they measure up against conventional methods to quit smoking.
But the alternatives should still stand as options for smokers determined to break the habit, said researchers led by Mehdi Tahiri of McGill University in Montreal, Canada.
In general, smokers who want to quit should first try the standard approaches, which include nicotine-replacement therapy, medications and behavioral counseling, Tahiri said.
“But some people are not interested in medication,” he said, adding that in many cases the standard therapies had not worked. “Then I think we should definitely recommend (acupuncture and hypnosis) as choices.”
Researchers found that some studies showed that smokers subjected to acupuncture were more than three times as likely to be tobacco-free six months to a year later.
Similarly, across four trials of hypnosis, smokers had a higher success rate with the therapy compared to people who had minimal help.
But there were some caveats, researchers said. The success rate was not consistent in all the tests conducted, although the broad trends pointed to the benefits of alternate treatment.
A 2008 study that ran a few sessions of laser acupuncture on 258 smokers found that 55% who’d received the treatment quit the habit in six months, compared with 4% who were not given the treatment.
But a 2007 study from Taiwan that looked at needle acupuncture around the ear, the area typically targeted for smoking cessation, reported a lower success rate.
Only 9% of those who were given acupuncture had quit after six months compared with six percent who stopped smoking without the treatment.
The situation was similar across the hypnosis trials. Two studies showed a significant impact : 20 to 45 percent of hypnosis patients were smoke-free six months to a year later. The other two trials showed smaller effects.
Nonetheless, Tahiri said, there was a “trend” toward a benefit across all of the studies of acupuncture and hypnosis.
There are still definitely questions, he added, about how many sessions of acupuncture or hypnosis might be necessary, or which specific techniques are best.
Other research reviews, though, have concluded that the jury is still out on alternative therapies for quitting smoking.