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Looking to the Laser

July 1, 2007
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A healing center in Ohio uses light therapy to help clients with addictions

Back in 2004, as several of her family members and friends struggled with addictions, Irene Terry began to experience months of sleepless nights. Having tried numerous kinds of therapy for her sleep problem, and still preoccupied with finding an effective way to help her loved ones, Terry began researching alternative therapies on the Internet.

She came across intriguing information on laser light therapy published by several organizations, including one in Canada called the Matrix Institute of Laser Therapy. This led the Ohioan to make a visit across the border to hear Matrix representatives explain the alternative addiction therapy to her firsthand. Psychologists at Matrix, which has two decades of clinical experience in laser therapy, told her that this approach had been available in the addictions arena in Canada and Europe for more than 30 years, but generally had not been offered in the United States.

When Terry returned to Ohio, she eagerly began the laser therapy approach, first for her own stress that was causing the sleep problems (“It worked for my disorder; it rebalanced me,” she recalls of the procedure, done by a laser technician) and later for her family members' and friends' substance use problems. Terry, who has a background in microbiology, received training in administering the laser therapy from both Matrix and the manufacturer of the laser equipment she uses. And in September of last year, she became a provider of alternative therapy for substance problems when she opened the Healing Laser Therapy Center in Strongsville, Ohio.

Terry explains that the laser procedures involve beaming low-powered laser light for 30 seconds at a time to more than a dozen key meridians in the body, including ears, wrists, and feet. In this respect, she notes, laser light treatment has similarities to acupuncture. When the light interacts with body tissue, she explains, it produces specific photochemical reactions that have beneficial stimulating effects.

“The beam of light opens up the meridians, releasing blocked energy and rebalancing a person's internal biochemical systems,” she says. “It resembles the effect of sunlight.”

Low-level laser therapy, also sometimes referred to as photomedicine, has been more commonly used as a noninvasive, drug-free method of pain relief and tissue regeneration in health areas such as sports medicine. Terry and other practitioners who have used the laser technique as an alternative therapy for tobacco and other addictions believe that when the select points in the body are stimulated by the low-powered laser light, information is sent to the brain to produce substances that help eliminate substance withdrawal symptoms and cravings. But Terry is careful to characterize her intervention as an alternative therapy, not a “cure” for addiction.

Course of therapy

Since last fall, Terry has worked with more than 50 individuals who have come in with substance problems of varying severity. Clinical studies have indicated a high success rate for low-level laser therapy in smoking cessation, but Terry says the therapy is demonstrating an ability to diminish craving for a variety of legal and illegal drugs.

In working with clients, Terry customarily administers the laser therapy twice a day for a total of 8, 10, or 12 treatments, depending on the severity of the substance problem. Within 72 hours, the natural opiates in the brain are stimulated, according to Terry, and this suppresses the client's desire for drugs or alcohol. “The cravings are diminished, and there are few or no withdrawal symptoms,” she asserts. “There's no stomach cramping, no vomiting, no diarrhea.”

On her center's Web site (http://www.heal inglasertherapy.net), here's how the safety profile of the laser approach is described: “Laser, being a non-iodizing form of radiation, is not capable of reorganizing the DNA structure and hence is not mutagenic and cannot cause cancer. Cell viability studies of human skin reveals no abnormal cell death and no adverse effects or significant safety hazards have been associated with this form of therapy.”

Terry says that every person who has received therapy for a substance problem at her center has successfully overcome the problem. “June,” a 35-year-old mother of two from Cleveland, visited the Healing Laser Therapy Center last November after reading about the therapy in a local magazine. She was combating a smoking addiction and binge drinking at the time.

June says she has not smoked or consumed any alcohol since the laser therapy was administered. “The effect on smoking was immediate—all I needed was one administration and I no longer craved nicotine,” she says. “It took longer on the alcohol addiction, but there weren't any withdrawal or side effects on either one.”

Terry is not aware of any existing clinical studies validating the effectiveness of this alternative approach except for those that have been conducted for smoking. She also does not know of any other practitioners using low-level laser therapy for addictions outside of smoking.

Terry, who along with her son Andrew has received Canadian certification through the Matrix Institute to practice the therapy (they are not required to hold a similar credential in the U.S.), notes that the laser therapy is not offered in isolation of other strategies. She suggests that clients use vitamins (including C and B complex) and drink plenty of water to expedite recovery. The center provides clients with a CD designed to reinforce the laser therapy and to support well-being with ongoing monitoring and a proper nutritional regimen.