A recent pilot study found it is possible to provide external qigong therapy (EQT) to people who are in residential treatment for cocaine dependency, and those who received four to six sessions of EQT during a two-week period experienced a decrease in cue-elicited cocaine cravings and symptoms of depression.

The study, “A Pilot Study of Qigong for Reducing Cocaine Craving Early in Recovery,” involved 101 recently abstinent cocaine-dependent people early in residential treatment. These individuals were randomly assigned to either the EQT group or the sham EQT group.

The study’s authors describe EQT as follows: “EQT is a form of energy medicine in which a trained EQT healer directs qi (bioenergy) and yi (healing intention) to a patient to help remove qi blockage and achieve inner balance.”

Two EQT healers with 10-plus years of experience performed the sessions for subjects in the EQT group, whereas three sham healers not familiar with qigong or any other complementary medicine interventions were instructed to perform the sessions for subjects in the sham EQT group.

All subjects were offered two to three 15-minute sessions per week for two weeks, which, depending on group assignment, equated to four to six EQT or sham EQT sessions per participant.

During the sham procedure, all the same EQT movements were replicated, but the sham healer was instructed to count mentally from one to 100, then backward from 100 to one, repeating this mental process for the full 15-minute session.

The main outcome measure in this study was the level of cue-elicited craving, as measured by the Voris Cocaine Craving Scale after exposure to neutral and active cues, first viewed on videos and then handled by the participant in person. For example, a neutral cue might be a pinecone, whereas an active cue might be a crack pipe.

Other outcome measures included the Cocaine Craving Questionnaire Brief, the state portion of the Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, the Beck Depression Inventory, the Credibility/Expectancy Questionnaire and the Addiction Severity Index.

After a baseline assessment of the study’s subjects was made, the two weeks of EQT or sham EQT intervention began, with a cue-exposure procedure at weeks one and two.

Results of the research showed subjects in the EQT group exhibited marginally significant reductions in cue-elicited cocaine cravings by the end of the second week, as compared to the sham control group. The researchers also found a significantly greater reduction in scores on the Beck Depression Inventory among subjects in the EQT group, as well as diminished craving and anxiety.

“This pilot study confirmed that EQT is feasible to deliver to individuals with cocaine addiction,” conclude the study’s authors, “with some modest short-term efficacy in reducing cue-elicited craving and other addiction-related symptoms with medium effect sizes compared to the sham.”


Authors: David Smelson, Kevin W. Chen, Douglas Ziedonis, Ken Andes, Amanda Lennox, Lanora Callahan, Stephanie Rodrigues and David Eisenberg.

Sources: Center for Health, Quality, Outcomes & Economic Research, Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital, Bedford, Massachusetts; Department of Psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, Massachusetts; Center for Integrative Medicine and Department of Psychiatry, University of Maryland, Baltimore, Maryland; Veterans Healthcare Administration, Lyons, New Jersey; and Harvard Medical School, Department of Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts. Originally published in 2013 in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 19(2), 97-101.