Do "one shot" stop smoking injections work?
January 13, 2006 5:59 AM   Subscribe

Does anybody have experience with (or knowledge of) "one shot" stop smoking programs such as Welplex or Smart Shot? There's a lot

My roommate got a number from a flyer/poster claiming to offer a guaranteed one-visit treatment for smoking. He's been conned before (by some laser light thing) but wants to believe this will work. I'm skeptical and my limited research abilities leave me with the impression it's a scam. But I'm not entirely sure and don't want to steer him away if it's got a decent chance of working.

Here's what I found:

- The treatment apparently consists of an atarax + scopolamine shot, or shots, with some patch/pills followup. There's some educational materials and some light therapy/group support involved as well.

- The sites for various Welplex clinics are all identical, although the names vary a bit -- franchise business? It's a hard sell with unlikely sounding success rates and no offsite links.

- I found a few other sites offering the same treatment. There's the Smart Shot and this scamalicious page. Again, hard sell, things that look like links aren't (no outside links), etc.

- There's a so-called article on some local TV channel site, but that turned out to be of the press release/kickback variety. Smells like more hard selling to me. (sidetrack: is this kind of thing even legal?)


- All this said, there is a page of scientific references on the Welplex sites. This is where I get lost. Most of the titles sound irrelevant to me, with the exception of "Bachynsky N. The use of anticholinergic drugs for smoking cessation: a pilot study. Int J Addict. 1986 Jul;21(7):789-805". (This also turns out to be the article cited by the scamalicious page). I googled and found a copy of this and it sounded plausible. But I don't know from scientific journals, and how to find out if this research is legit, whether there's been followups, etc.


Can anybody confirm this is a scam, or alternately, that it does work? I'm trying to keep an open mind, and maybe I'm just too skeptical -- maybe it's a real working product with bad marketers. But I don't know how to follow up on the research, and have been remarkably unsuccessful in finding reports on this stuff by real, live people.

(And if it is a scam, I need to convince my roommate of this before he blows $400+. He's not very educated/scientific, and the "patents", "references", "university studies" and "guaranteed or your money back" sound good to him. Any advice on this would be an appreciated bonus.)
posted by cps to Health & Fitness (16 answers total)
Um. I'm not a doctor and I know very little about this kind of stuff but this has GIANT SCAM RUN RUN RUN written all over it. Atarax is a powerful antihistamine, and I have no idea what Scopamine is, but a quick search says it sounds like something similar, it slows down the digestive system. I've taken atarax before for an extreme allergic reaction and it made me VERY loopy, and that was just a pill.

How this would help you to quit smoking practically is totally and completely beyond me, but these are prescription medications that come with all sorts of warnings and restrictions.

In addition, things like "money back guarantee" and cites of patents really raise a lot of red flags. Those are the hallmarks of scam, you're very right to think that.

Does your roomie have health insurance? He should see a doctor if he really wants help in smoking. Even if he doesn't have health insurance, a visit with a doctor will cost far less than $400 and he will get much more practical, trustworthy advice.

Quitting smoking is hard. There is no magic bullet. You have to really want to do it. There are things like patches and gums that might help, but getting shot up with powerful drugs and paying out the nose for the privilege seems reckless and stupid to me. Sorry to be so blunt, but there you have it.
posted by pazazygeek at 6:36 AM on January 13, 2006

Scopolamine is a chemical found in Deadly Nightshade and other datura family members, along with Atropine which is well known for being the eye-dilating chemical when you get an eye exam. They are both considered dangerous. Scopolamine is also often used for date rape and other illegal purposes, since it can induce retrograde amnesia.

It's good to be skeptical, but NOTHING will prevent your mind from having a neurochemical storm after sudden cessation of nicotine. It will be very intense for at least 3 days. The notion of a one-shot fix is ludicrous in itself.

Seeing how the same friend shelled out cash for a laser-light therapy to do who-knows-what, stop him now. Or failing that, offer your own snake oil and take his money. This is America.
posted by adzm at 6:47 AM on January 13, 2006

Also, some discussion from July of 2005 includes anecdotes of people who tried the shots and failed. This 'miracle' treatment has been around for a good while and it's still difficult to find any credible research or any credible personal testimonials. The "upcoming" double-blind test (how can they know it's effective without one?), along with barely any details on the mechanism of action... It's a scam.

I'm sure you get the point by now, but nothing pisses me off more than these kinds of charlatans.
posted by adzm at 6:57 AM on January 13, 2006

Yargh, I'm back. Disclaimer, I've worked on several "fringe" therapies for various ailments. It must be the early morning, and I realize I can't just discount this as a scam. But I'd be very, very wary. Everything I've been involved with has always had its statistics up front, foremost. Numbers will often speak for themselves. And treatments that have not yet undergone a "double-blind" test are usually not too quick to set up franchised treatment offices all around the state.

Now I'm done.
posted by adzm at 7:03 AM on January 13, 2006

Bam! indeed.

Thanks for the answers guys, this is pretty much what I figured. Just wanted to make sure.

Still, peculiar there isn't more info out there from people who've had it though. Maybe embarassment at being taken in?

OT: I find the most appalling thing in all of this the unquestioning "report" by the TV channel's health person (presumably run on-air). I try to avoid TV news, but I've noticed before that the "health news" often is some new, expensive treatment and wondered what the deal is (kickbacks? nice premade video + laziness?). There oughtta be a law.
posted by cps at 7:25 AM on January 13, 2006

While I'm glad for people suggesting your friend should be careful, I'm here to tell you that this treatment worked for me.

Prior to this treatment, done at the Tampa clinic listed in the link above, I had attempted quitting smoking many tens of times, both cold-turkey and with nicotine-replacement/weaning treatments like the gum and patch.

All of the previous attempts at quitting resulted in me acting like a complete asshole because of the physical addiction. Most times, I never quit long enough to really get past the physical part to work on the mental part.

One time I was able to go smoke-free for six whole months - well past the physical addiction and into the mental side. However, cigarettes still smelled "good" when other people were around. I could tell if people in the car in front of me were smoking because of the heightened desire to smoke. Because of this, at the first major mental stress, I made the excuse to begin smoking again.

This treatment was different. My boss and I went bowling after lunch, and I smoked the rest of my pack. My appointment was in the late afternoon. After arriving, I was given the shots and prescriptions for the patches and pills. My boss drove me home, and I slept from about 6pm to the next morning. I awoke without the urge to smoke.

The patches and pills (which were Transderm Scop and belladonna pills) were to be taken for two weeks after the treatment. A couple of days in and I knew when I needed to take the pills because I could feel the urge in my forebrain. After the full course of the pills and patches, the urge just never came back.

I am happy to say that this treatment worked completely for me. I am not the traditional angry reformed smoker because I'm not addicted mentally or physically anymore. People can smoke around me and it's just something they do - not something I would begin doing again. I've had plenty of life-altering stress-inducing events since my treatment and not once bummed a smoke from friends or bought a pack. Heck, both my parents are heavy smokers, and I haven't borrowed from them either.

The "treatment center" was in a doctors' office. They claimed around 75% success rate. Re-treatment was free if you began smoking within a year. I went in completely skeptical. Two weeks later, I was a non-smoker. Either that's a powerful bit of placebo effect, or the treatment has merit.

The individual drugs given are useful for other treatments as well - scopolamine is a common prescription motion-sickness treatment and atropine (in the belladonna pills) is commonly used for a variety of things, most notably in overdoses of pesticides and nerve gases. This is the supposed action of the drug in tobacco addiction, by way of atropine's acetylcholine blocking properties.

I was a ten-year pack-a-day smoker, and I've been a non-smoker now for 6 years.
posted by tomierna at 8:29 AM on January 13, 2006

Oh, and other amusing anecdotal experiences:

The physical smoker's manifestations remained with me for several months after the treatment. I'd stand up to stretch and pat my back pants pocket to grab my smokes, or touch my mouth with smoker's fingers. Either would remind me that I wasn't a smoker anymore instead of triggering me to wander out and smoke.

Not only did those motions not trigger a smoke-break, but they elicited an empowered chuckle from me, as in, "You creature of habitual motions, you don't do that anymore!" In my previous experiences quitting, those motions might trigger an attempt to either convince myself I wasn't a smoker, or convince myself it would be OK to just have one more, or buy just one more pack.
posted by tomierna at 8:39 AM on January 13, 2006

Second tomierna: my mother did this in Florida and it worked for her as well. 2 pack/day, 40+ year habit completely finished. Though she also has some sort of behavioural retraining to deal with the physical habits you describe as well as the prescriptions. I think quitting anything is just a "whatever works, do it" scenario.
posted by methylsalicylate at 9:17 AM on January 13, 2006

It's not the cigarettes that are the problem.

posted by SwingingJohnson1968 at 10:14 AM on January 13, 2006

If it's the lighters, the solution is obvious:

Never get off the airplane.

OB anecdote:
I have a friend who made use of another scam program involving lasers and TENS electrodes, and it worked for both his wife and him.

It was utter BS, without scientific validity, but it worked.

He and his wife both make good subjects for Hypnosis, so my theory is that they are suggestible enough for a good show to convince them they're cured. Plus, (and probably most important) they both really did want to quit.
posted by Crosius at 10:23 AM on January 13, 2006

Thanks for the reports, tomierna and methylsalicylate.

I'm still skeptical of the success rate, and think the price -- given the common meds involved -- outrageous. But I'll pass on all the info in this thread to the roommate and let him make up his own mind.
posted by cps at 10:23 AM on January 13, 2006

Crosius, that's what I figure might be involved here -- high price + doctor's office + shots + audio/video materials (behavioral therapy) => belief => it works!, for some folks.

Step 3: Profit!!
posted by cps at 10:31 AM on January 13, 2006

Eh, I skipped the behavioral therapy part.

The price wasn't really that high - $350 plus the Rx's which were covered under my insurance despite being prescribed off-label.

I only mentioned it was at a real doctor's office to show that it wasn't necessarily as fly-by-night as other posters might have suspected based on their badly-implemented websites.

The success rates they quoted seemed OK, considering they were for some amount of months, rather than forever.

Some additional anecdotal data was that out of four or so people I know that did this around the same time (not including myself), I've heard that one started smoking again, but didn't go for the re-treatment.
posted by tomierna at 12:44 PM on January 13, 2006

Wasn't singling you out tomierna, just going by what the website says about the offices, therapy etc.

Maybe the medicinal part of this program does have an effect, or maybe it has a strong effect on a subset of people. Given the program's shady roots and lack of science backing it, we have no real evidence.

So far you and methylsalicylate's mom are the only reports of "real" people I've come across, which I still find weird. These guys must be getting hundreds if not thousands of patients per year, and none of them seem to be posting about it anywhere -- neither for *nor* against. I suppose there could be some self-deselection going on, as in many bloggers and other net-knowledgeable folk might steer clear of these clinics because of their scammy impression...
posted by cps at 1:09 PM on January 13, 2006

I thought I'd post my actual experience on this topic rather than the supposition that is the majority of what's been written.

I smoked for 40 years, and had tried to quit using various means to stop including "cold turkey",(the longer you smoke the harder this becomes); hypnotism (a total waste of time and money); the "patch" (just a different way to get the highly addictive nicotine and not really a way to break the habit); and, the gum (again, just another substitute) all of which failed. In fact, most of the time when I quit using one of the methods listed, I ended up smoking more than I did before I quit.

I came across an ad for the treatment using scopolomine and atropine. The ad said that I could walk in to the office after just finishing a cigarette and that when I left, I would not want to smoke again. The cost of the treatment was about $450. The shots were administered by a doctor in his office - one in the hip and one behind each ear. I was also given a bottle of pills that were atropine, and some scopolomine patches. I was supposed to take the pills for the following two weeks. and wear the patch behind an ear for six days, if I remember correctly. About a half hour after getting the shots I became very tired and restless, something the doctor told me would happen. My wife drove me home and I went to bed.

I took the pills for only a few days and decided to stop because they made me feel odd. But I didn't smoke. I had a few instances where the urge would come over me to smike, but it would vanish as quickly as it came, and I never had to fight off an urge. That was three years ago. I haven't smoked since, and I have absolutely no desire to.

So, while there are risks associated with any therapy, my personal experience with this treatment indicates that it is not a scam and that it has a very good chance of success. I know several people that have had a similar experience to me, and I also know people that tried it and failed. The successes outnumber the failures. of the people I know. Like any treatment, a person taking the treatment has got to be committed to stopping, or it will fail. But it can and does work.

I'm neither a chemist, biologist or a doctor, but my understanding of the treatment is that it counteracts the effects of nicotine on the nervous system. It does it long enough for the synapses to straighten themselves out - thus breaking the addiction. The patch only helps a person keep from lighting up, but it does not break the addiction to nicotine.

Scopolomine is typically used as a motion sickness deterent much like dramamine, and atropine is use as an anesthesia and as a counteractant to several poisons.

The pills that were supplied also contained some barbituates, but nothing that was high dosage, and I didn't tkae the whole bottle. Several people I talked to indicated that they didn't use the whole prescription either.

I've read a lot on the treatment, including articles saying that there are risks associated with the drugs and that the drugs haven't been approved to treat smoking. But I figured that scopolomine couldn't be any worse for me than the 40 years of tar and nicotine I had consumed. I also knew that scopolomine had been administered pretty routinely for motion sickness, so I figured the potential benefits of the treatment far outweighed the risks.

Anyone considering the treatment should do their own risk assessment, but I can say that it worked for me where other stop smoking treatments failed.
posted by Ensign Suder at 10:47 PM on December 24, 2006

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