Do-it-yourself brain stimulation has
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[July 23, 2016]
By Kathryn Doyle
(Reuters Health) - Healthy people looking to enhance brain function with
do-it-yourself electrical brain stimulation may encounter unexpected
results, have difficulty predicting how they will react to the
stimulation, and have long-lasting changes in function, according to a
new editorial by neurologists.
“There are a variety of different devices, however the simplest and
most common approach is to place two saline soaked sponges on the
scalp and run a weak electrical current through them,” senior author
Dr. Michael D. Fox of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston
told Reuters Health by email. “It can be done at home with a couple
of sponges and a 9 volt battery, which is why DIY tDCS exists.
Whether it should be done is a different question.
Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) can improve some
brain functions, but most studies have focused on easing symptoms
for patients with brain disease, said coauthor Dr. Roy H. Hamilton
of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
“Transcranial electrical stimulation of the brain seems to be safe
from experimental and clinical data we have available, at least at
the levels that we administer it in research studies and clinical
studies,” Hamilton told Reuters Health by phone. “At those levels
and durations the side effect profile for tDCS is mild.”
Some people experience an itching or burning sensation at the
stimulation site, some report headache or fatigue, but generally
speaking there are no serious or adverse effects in medical
settings, he said.
The risks and benefits for healthy people will be different,
“For individuals who are interested in enhancing their cognition, it
does seem as though when applied transiently there is some gain
there,” he said.
But electrical stimulation may affect other regions of the brain,
beyond those directly beneath the electrodes. It may interact with
ongoing brain activity if a user is active during stimulation, may
improve some functions while hindering others, and effects may vary
widely by individual, the authors write in the Annals of Neurology.
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“I’d estimate that there have been tens of thousands of devices sold
in the last few years, though it’s not clear whether people purchase
them and continue to use them, or whether they purchase them and
throw them away,” said Anna Wexler, visiting scholar at the Center
for Neuroscience and Society at the University of Pennsylvania who
was not part of the new editorial.
The strongest evidence indicates electrical stimulation can be
effective for treating depression or pain, Wexler told Reuters
Health by email.
“It’s unclear whether or not the risk:benefit ratio is as favorable
when you’re talking not about undoing the effects of some injury or
disease but taking normal individuals and enhancing them to a point
above their normalcy,” Hamilton said. “It’s unclear how much risk
one ought to tolerate.”
He doesn’t want to dissuade or encourage people to try this at home,
“There’s no restriction that would preclude a person from purchasing
a device online or going to local radio shack and creating one of
these devices themselves,” he said.
“I do think it’s important for them to have a sense of the kinds of
things that are known or not known about stimulation,” Hamilton
said. “And possible effects that stimulation might have that they
may or may not be considering.”
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1WqYvtS Annals of Neurology, online July 7,
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