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It all sounded like a bad rerun of “The Twilight Zone:” in my hometown, Casual Corner Furniture closed without fanfare and was replaced by a store that seemed too good to be true – a 30-minute clinic that painlessly cures cigarette addiction.

Roshan Reddy

In the old TV shows, the new tenants would seem just slightly different than normal – taller, maybe – but the real wonder would be whatever they were selling: a too-good-to-be-true pill or serum that would trim pounds while you slept or hypnosis training that would turn you into Charles Atlas within the hour. The town on television would instantly be addicted to whatever the new shop was selling, only to find out that the shopkeepers were aliens (or worse, Russians).

So when the Freedom Laser Therapy Center opened its doors in downtown Royal Oak, I expected alien invasion. And why not – its purpose is certainly otherworldly for a typical business – using low-level laser therapy to permanently cure cigarette addiction. Their store windows shout for pedestrians to “Live Free” from cigarette smoking, promising an 80 to 85 percent success rate.

Originally, the plan for this column was for me to take up cigarette smoking, become addicted and then hope that the treatment would cure me. I instantly realized what a dumb idea that would be, recruited a good friend of mine who is already addicted to smoking and drove down to Royal Oak.

Walking inside the Freedom clinic is like walking inside the Men In Black headquarters. Everything is clean and rectilinear, with space-age chairs and ambient lighting. The therapists, while not aliens, are disarmingly beautiful, and left the two of us to fill out forms while we watched an informational video covering the history of acupuncture – the basis for the laser treatment.

Company founder and inventor of the FINDIT Keyfinder (as seen on TV), Craig Nabat was himself a cigarette addict when he happened upon laser therapy in Canada, where it has been available for 30 years. As his website says, “Nabat’s first hand battle with nicotine addiction sparked a fiery in him to help other smokers who have trouble quitting.” Freedom’s company goal is nothing short of heroic – to rid the world of cigarette addiction.

The laser itself is low-level, about as powerful as a 60-watt bulb, and stimulates the release of endorphins to help the former cigarette addict cope with the first 72 hours of withdrawal. After that, the former addict needs to cultivate habits to replace smoking – exercise, a healthy diet (Freedom provides six different dietary supplements to help recovering addicts stay healthy – ) and more psychological habits ( – and also provides a water bottle to replace the arm motion that becomes such a routine for smokers).

My treatment was nothing short of surreal. I was in what was quite possibly the most comfortable chair I’ve ever been in for about 30 minutes while the lights were dimmed, and my stunningly attractive therapist touched the laser to pressure points on my hands and face. A hypnotic video played throughout, speaking to me over images of waves crashing, of tides going in and out.

I learned from the video that I was strong enough to quit smoking, that getting the treatment was the most important thing possible for me to do at that time and that every aspect of my life would dramatically improve after the I completed the treatment. Over and over again, I was told to “live free,” to “free myself” and to “live free for my dependents” – it’s a strong mantra to which smokers should attach themselves with a vice grip.

When I talked to Dr. Kent Berridge, professor of psychology at the University, part of the team that formed the most accurate model of addiction and craving, he was wary of the treatment’s given success rate.

“Neuroscientists increasingly accept that the real causes of addiction go well beyond withdrawal. So I don’t think addiction neuroscience leads us to expect this treatment would work. If it helps at all, it seems likely to be through helping induce a belief in people that they are being helped to quit,” he said.

He’s right. Freedom (the clinic) wasn’t just about the gratis water bottle or vitamin supplements, nor even about the laser itself – it’s basically a psychological spa, a pleasant version of the conditioning received by the character Alex in “A Clockwork Orange.”

Psychological spas, belief dispensed by laser and addiction withdrawal cured in a 30-minute treatment – what does it all mean? To some degree, we’re still caught up in the fantasies of the 1950s, yet we still don’t have a base understanding of scientific principles. Think about it – we buy Gatorade because it replenishes “electrolytes” and use our shampoos because they stimulate “polypeptide bonding” in our hair follicles. These things sound scientific, but we don’t understand how they work any more than we understand how a laser increases endorphin production.

I’m annoyed by my own ignorance, by my own desire for instant cures and technological confusion. But there’s some point where I just need to let go, to embrace and enjoy the technology even when I can’t explain it. One way or another, my friend hasn’t smoked since.

Forest is waiting for a day when a laser can cure his column-writing addiction. He can be reached at fcasey@umich.edu.

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