Can you heal yourself, even make yourself smarter, by zapping your brain with electric currents? What sounds like barbaric punishment of decades ago is something people can, and do, administrate to themselves in their own homes.
via Cosmos Magazine:
These days, people are clamouring to zap their brains. You can even buy DIY kits online at Foc.us, advertised by young men with chic red headsets attached to their forehead. The ads say “Unleash your inner game” and “Take charge”. Powered by a nine-volt battery, the kits deliver what is known as transcranial direct current stimulation or tDCS. They are being snapped up by video gamers and others who want to amp up their concentration or zap themselves out of depression.
Do they work? If so, what are they doing – and can they cause harm? No one knows for certain. The devices have bolted half-baked out of the lab. Researchers seem ambivalent about possible harms, and some question if the piddly two-milliamp current does anything at all. Some users singe their scalp, but otherwise there’s no evidence of ill effects. But if the devices do affect the brain, then overzealous users could be damaging themselves.
These battery-powered kits have escaped the lab, but they have a cousin that is far too big and costly to do so. It delivers transcranial magnetic stimulation or TMS. TMS is attracting less buzz but the evidence for its effects are far more solid – the US Federal Drug Administration approved the technique for depression in 2008, and other countries including Australia, Israel, Brazil and Canada have followed suit. Large clinical trials are planned to test the technique on those suffering from schizophrenia, autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, auditory hallucinations, stroke and memory loss.
There is a sense that a paradigm shift is afoot. At one level it seems unbelievable. The rationale behind the technology is at odds with our traditional understanding of the brain.