In the not-too-distant past, electro-shock therapy was a common treatment for a wide range of neurological issues. At the time electro-shock therapy practices could be extremely invasive, involving basic setups that would regularly cause “patients” more harm than good. Indeed, patients would regularly leave the treatment chair with a new collection of neurological issues.
It is still used today in certain cases, but electronic brain stimulation is vastly more sophisticated than in the past. Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (TDCS) involves running a current directly through your brain, can be administered at home, and importantly, can be self-applied.
Results vary wildly depending on where the stimulation is applied, as well as what voltage and what oscillation. Just as our electro-shock therapists of the past realised, increasing the current doesn’t produce better results, and can actually inhibit the central nervous system from further stimulation.
Amateur brain hackers are using their newly found therapeutic methodologies to mediate a wide range of potential ailments. Some have a focus on meditation, using the electrical currents to help with sleep and nutrition to promote well-being and mental performance, while others explore stimulation to improve mental acuity, encouraging the brain's neurons and synapses to “do the right thing” while processing information.
Cameron Craddock, director at the Nathan S Kline Institute For Psychiatric Research of New York, explains how you might have encountered TDCS without realising, albeit with minimal effect: “If you’ve ever licked a battery you’ve probably done TDCS”.
Along with TDCS, amateurs are utilising Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS); stimulating localised brain areas spanning just a few square centimetres. TMS aims to improve speech, movement and counting facilities. While Craddock has observed these improvements in action, the FDA is still sceptical; TMS is still awaiting approval for use in the treatment of specific conditions such as depression or PTSD.
Is it all just a gentle push in the right direction, then?
As you might expect, there are potential side-effects. As with anything experimental, the long-term neurological effects of home brain hacking are little understood, let alone well documented. However, common side-effects include (but are certainly not limited too!) damaged hearing, scalp discomfort, spasms and headaches, skin itching, dizziness and fatigue.
Personally, I’m out. Matters involving the mind are best left to the experts. But without the pioneers of the past, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Are we merely witnessing a new neurological dawn, with amateurs leading the way? It could be possible, it could be – but as far as I’m aware, we still only get one brain, so for the moment, I’ll keep mine to myself.
Image courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti / freedigitalphotos.net.