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Natural Remedies to Quit Smoking

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Updated January 28, 2013

These are 5 natural remedies that have been explored to help people quit smoking.

1) Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a commonly used therapy to help people quit smoking. The acupuncture needles used are usually hair-thin, and they are inserted into various points in the ear where they remain for about 20 minutes.

For help in between sessions, many acupuncturists provide tiny balls (the size of the tip of a ball point pen), that are taped with invisible tape to the ear. When a craving for cigarettes hits, the smoker is instructed to press gently on the ball, which stimulates the acupuncture point.

A 2006 study analyzed 24 placebo-controlled trials on acupuncture, acupressure, laser therapy, or electrostimulation for smoking cessation. There was no consistent evidence that these therapies were effective for smoking cessation. The researchers, however, concluded that further research was needed because the poor design of many of the studies made it difficult to draw a conclusion.

One study involving 141 people found that acupuncture plus education on smoking cessation was four times as effective as acupuncture alone. The study also found that acupuncture plus education was twice as effective as sham acupuncture plus education.

For more information about acupuncture, read the Acupuncture Fact Sheet.

2) Lobelia

The herb lobelia (Lobelia inflata) has been promoted to help people fight the effects of nicotine withdrawal and is found in many anti-smoking products. The active ingredient in lobelia, lobeline, is thought to have similar actions on the body as nicotine.

In 1993, however, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) temporarily prohibited the sale of certain lobelia products marketed to help people quit smoking. According to the report, the reason was because evidence showed they were not effective.

Later research has shown that lobeline may increase levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain similar to cigarettes. Dopamine influences mood and produces feelings of pleasure. There is still no evidence, however, showing that lobelia supplements help people quit smoking.

Lobelia is a potentially toxic herb, and should not be used unless under the supervision of a qualified health practitioner. It can cause dry mouth, profuse sweating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, rapid heartbeat, confusion, convulsions, coma, and in larger doses, even death.

People with heart disease, high blood pressure, heart disease, tobacco sensitivity, paralysis, seizure disorder, shortness of breath, or who are recovering from shock should not take this herb. Pregnant and nursing women and children should also not take lobelia.

3) St. Johns Wort

Although the herb St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum)is used primarily for depression, there is some preliminary research on this herb to help people quit smoking.

In one pilot study, 24 people who smoked 1 or more cigarettes a day received St. John's wort (450 mg capsule 2 times a day) plus smoking cessation counseling. After 12 weeks, 37.5% or 9 out of 24 people had quit.

Another pilot study found some effect, but the results were not long-term. Twenty-eight smokers were randomized to receive St. John's wort (300 mg once or twice a day), either once or twice daily for one week before quitting and continued for 3 months after. In addition, all participants received motivational/behavioural support. At 3 months, 18% continued to abstain from smoking. At a 12 month followup, it was 0%. Neither study was double-blind or placebo controlled, so they cannot be used as evidence.

Although St. John's Wort appears to be reasonably safe when taken alone, it can interfere with the effectiveness of prescription and over-the-counter drugs, such as antidepressants, drugs to treat HIV infections and AIDs, drugs to prevent organ rejection for transplant patients, and oral contraceptives.

St. John's wort is not recommended for pregnant or nursing women, children, or people with bipolar disorder, liver or kidney disease.

For more articles on St. John's wort, go to the St. John's wort article index.

4) Ginseng

Ginseng has been shown to prevent the prevent the nicotine-induced release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is what makes people feel good after smoking and is part of the addiction process.

Although intriguing, no studies to date have examined whether ginseng supplements can help people quit smoking. For more information about ginseng, read the Ginseng Fact Sheet.

5) Hypnotherapy

In 2000, a study by the Cochrane Collaboration analyzed nine longer-term studies on the use of hypnotherapy to quit smoking. The researchers found that hypnotherapy was not more effective on 6 month quit rates than other treatments or than no treatment.

Two subsequent studies had more promising results. In 2006, a pilot study examined the effect of hypnotherapy (one visit a week for 8 weeks) or no treatment (people were put on a waiting list). After the 8 weeks, 40% had abstained from smoking. At 12 months, 60% had abstained, and at 26 weeks, the abstinence rate was 4%.

In the second study, researchers looked at 12 hypnosis studies that reported the results by gender and found that the odds of achieving smoking abstinence were 1.37 times greater for male than female participants.

Sources

Abbot NC, Stead LF, White AR, Barnes J, Ernst E. Hypnotherapy for smoking cessation. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2000;(2):CD001008.

Barnes J, Barber N, Wheatley D, Williamson EM. A pilot randomised, open, uncontrolled, clinical study of two dosages of St John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) herb extract (LI-160) as an aid to motivational/behavioural support in smoking cessation. Planta Med. 72.4 (2006): 378-382.

Davis JM, Fleming MF, Bonus KA, Baker TB. A pilot study on mindfulness based stress reduction for smokers. BMC Complement Altern Med. 7.1 (2007): 2.

Dwoskin LP, Crooks PA. A novel mechanism of action and potential use for lobeline as a treatment for psychostimulant abuse. Biochem Pharmacol. 63.2 (2002): 89-98.

Elkins G, Marcus J, Bates J, Hasan Rajab M, Cook T. Intensive hypnotherapy for smoking cessation: a prospective study. Int J Clin Exp Hypn. 54.3 (2006): 303-315.

Green JP, Jay Lynn S, Montgomery GH. A meta-analysis of gender, smoking cessation, and hypnosis:a brief communication. Int J Clin Exp Hypn. 52.2 (2006): 224-233.

Kim SE, Shim I, Chung JK, Lee MC. Effect of ginseng saponins on enhanced dopaminergic transmission and locomotor hyperactivity induced by nicotine. Neuropsychopharmacology. 31.8 (2006): 1714-1721.

Lawvere S, Mahoney MC, Cummings KM, Kepner JL, Hyland A, Lawrence DD, Murphy JM. A Phase II study of St. John's Wort for smoking cessation. Complement Ther Med. 14.3 (2006): 175-184.

Teng L, Crooks PA, Dwoskin LP. Lobeline displaces [3H]dihydrotetrabenazine binding and releases [3H]dopamine from rat striatal synaptic vesicles: comparison with d-amphetamine. J Neurochem. 71.1 (1998): 258-265.

White AR, Rampes H, Campbell JL. Acupuncture and related interventions for smoking cessation. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006 Jan 25;(1):CD000009.

White AR, Resch KL, Ernst E. A meta-analysis of acupuncture techniques for smoking cessation. Tob Control. 8.4 (1999): 393-397.

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