'Can Hypnosis Help Smokers to Quit?', SFVAMC study asks

One of the most commonly broken New Year’s resolutions is to quit smoking cigarettes.  A study beginning this month at San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center will test whether hypnosis can help smokers fight off their cigarette cravings.

“Smokers in this study will learn how to use self-hypnosis skills to strengthen their resolve, particularly at the moment of a craving,” said researcher Tim Carmody, PhD, director of health psychology at SFVAMC and UCSF clinical professor of psychiatry.

The study recently began enrolling smokers, and Carmody said he hopes to enroll 360 participants over the next year. 

It is a randomized trial comparing the efficacy of self-hypnosis training with individual smoking cessation counseling. 

Participants have a 50/50 chance of receiving counseling or hypnosis training.  All participants receive eight weeks of nicotine patches.

“Those receiving hypnosis will initially be hypnotized by a counselor and given suggestions regarding reasons for quitting and strategies for staying abstinent.  While hypnotized, the participants will also learn a signal they can later use to quickly and naturally re-experience the hypnotic state any time they are confronted with the urge to smoke,” Carmody said. 

It is hoped that the hypnotically suggested stop-smoking messages will reinforce the commitment to quit and bolster confidence in the ability to resist the urge to smoke, Carmody said.

While other researchers have tried hypnosis as a tool for smokers, with a wide range of success rates, only a few randomized clinical trials have tested its efficacy. 

The new trial should provide a more definitive answer about hypnosis because it will use a saliva test to assess the smokers’ success or failure 12 months after treatment begins.  If the subject has not quit smoking, the test will find small amounts of nicotine by-products in the saliva.  Previous trials simply used self-report, a less reliable measure of smoking habits, Carmody explained.

The study will also assess whether certain characteristics make a smoker more likely to succeed with the hypnosis method.

Smokers interested in participating in the trial may call (415) 221-4810, x4805 to find out whether or not they qualify.

Co-investigators on the study will include Joel Simon, MD, MPH, UCSF assistant professor of medicine and staff physician at SFVAMC; Carol Duncan, RD, MPH, research associate; and Sharon Solkowitz, MPH, research associate.

The study is funded by the University of California’s Tobacco Related Disease Research Program, which in turn is funded through the State of California’s Proposition 99 cigarette tax.

The San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center has been a primary affiliate of University of California San Francisco since 1974.  The UCSF School of Medicine and the SFVAMC collaborate to provide education and training programs for medical students and residents at SFVAMC.  SFVAMC maintains full responsibility for patient care and facility management of the medical center.  Physicians at SFVAMC are employed by the Department of Veterans Affairs and also hold UCSF faculty appointments.