Objective: To assess the effectiveness of moclobemide on smoking cessation and abstinence in heavy, dependent smokers. There is a strong association between smoking and depression, especially in dependent smokers. It was hypothesized that smoking is a self-medication to treat depression. Cigarette smoke has monoamine oxidase (MAO)-inhibitory properties, and smokers have lower MAO activity than non-smokers.
Methods: We used a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled parallel-group study. Placebo or moclobemide, 400 mg/day for 2 months and 200 mg/day during the third month, was given. Main outcome measures were self-reported and biochemically verified (plasma cotinine levels, < 20 ng/ml) abstinence rate. Secondary outcome measures were withdrawal symptoms, Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale, Hamilton anxiety rating scores, platelet MAO-B activity, and plasma dihydroxyphenylglycol as a measure of MAO-A activity.
Results: Eighty-eight smokers were randomized to receive moclobemide (n = 44) or placebo (n = 44). The continuous self-reported abstinence rate was higher with moclobemide than with placebo (intention-to-treat analysis until the end point, 6 months: p < 0.05; until the end of follow-up, 1 year: p = 0.09). The abstinence rate according to plasma cotinine levels showed a trend to effectiveness of moclobemide (end point: p = 0.13; follow-up: p = 0.12). Platelet MAO-B activity increased after smoking cessation but without a significant difference. Plasma dihydroxyphenylglycol levels did not change in the placebo group but decreased dose dependently in the moclobemide group. No difference occurred for withdrawal symptoms, Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale, and Hamilton anxiety scores. Cessation of moclobemide had no adverse effect. More subjects reported insomnia with moclobemide (n = 16) than with placebo (n = 3).
Conclusion: In this preliminary study, the reversible, selective MAO inhibitor moclobemide facilitated smoking cessation in highly dependent smokers. Further studies with substantially more smokers are needed to evaluate the role of MAO inhibitors in smoking cessation and abstinence in smokers with high nicotine dependence.