A magnet against gambling addiction? Yes, it may sound a bit strange. And if you have a friend who has been behind the slot machine for too long, you shouldn’t go straight to the Gamma or Praxis to buy one. It is not just any magnet.

The Italian neurologist Antonello Bonci has been researching (gambling) addiction and cocaine addiction for years . He does this both in Italy and at various universities in the United States. He gradually discovered the receptors in the brain that play a role in addiction. Not only with drugs, but with every form of addiction.

Magnet against gambling addiction

Bonci started working with magnets a few years ago. That gave positive results. He and the teams he worked with intensified their research. It was then clear for a long time that the results of their research with cocaine addicts would also work for gambling addicts.

For example, because addictions have in common that they stimulate the brain’s pain and reward system. Read the previous article about dopamine and gambling addiction about this .

How it started

Bonci conducted research in Baltimore around 2010. With colleague Billy Chen, he made rats highly addicted to cocaine. The bugs were always looking for the drug. In fact, they were so addicted that they tolerated painful electric shocks to their legs in order to receive drugs.

Bonci and Chen also genetically manipulated the rats. This allowed them to control parts of the rat brain with light, for example. When they stimulated the rats’ brains in the prefrontal cortex, an area behind the forehead, the rats immediately stopped looking for cocaine. This prompted the researchers to conduct new experiments aimed at that area.

Magnetic stimulation

Bonci used magnetic stimulation of the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in one of the experiments . This magnetic stimulation (TMS) has already been widely used in the medical environment, for example in the treatment of depression. Promotion of the aforementioned area turned out to be promising; much later also in people with both cocaine and gambling addiction (comorbidity).

In addicts, two circuits in the frontal lobe are set incorrectly. The area that inhibits addiction is brain activity too low. And in the part of the brain that fuels the need for the addiction object, it is too high. With magnetic stimulation, Bonci regulates the activity and gets it into a better balance.

A research example

The magnet against gambling addiction and other addictions is placed in front of the forehead. The firing of magnetic signals then affects the nerve cells.

One of the first studies involved 29 cocaine addicts. They used an average of 2 grams of cocaine every other day. Bonci divided the study participants into two groups. One group was treated with the magnet, the other group was not treated. Both groups were not allowed to use cocaine afterwards. This was checked with urinalysis.

After nearly a month, 3 of the untreated participants were found to be cocaine-free. Of the group that had undergone the magnetic stimulation, 10 had stopped using cocaine.

Practice application

Shortly after Bonci’s initial results, several practitioners set to work on the findings of him and his colleagues. In Italy, for example, Luigi Gallimberti, an addiction doctor at a private clinic in Padua, replaced the rats with humans. He experimentally applied the rTMS technique to 32 cocaine addicts.

This turned out to be extremely successful, so that Gallimberti offered it more often as therapy. There was closer collaboration with Bonci. Together they opened a clinic in Milan in 2017. Gallimberti has now helped more than 350 addicts.

More research

Bonci himself continued to research. He was able to work with increasingly refined techniques, due to technological developments. The results improved and there was greater interest from other universities, disciplines and addiction environments. Which is why the magnet against gambling addiction also got attention.

Investigations are now underway in several countries. They are experiments with, for example, different strengths of magnet stimulation. But also research into forms of therapy. The latter is generally important because psychological counseling is still necessary for most treatments to prevent relapse.

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