Lifehacker UK spoke with Nick Davis, a lecturer in psychology at Swansea University. We began by asking whether there is any actual evidence that tDCS can have a beneficial effect on its users:
There is relatively little evidence at the moment that tDCS can lead to improvement in real-world activities. The closest we have got so far is in military contexts like spotting threats such as snipers. Researchers have used immersive video games to train soldiers to respond when they see something that might be a threat – tDCS seems to make people a little better.
With regards to the potential dangers of using these devices outside of a proper clinical environment, Davis continued:
In my lab, the major concern I have is that I might trigger a seizure. A seizure results from over-excitable brain circuits, so adding more excitability with tDCS could be dangerous. I would not allow anyone to take part in my experiments if they have a family history of epilepsy, or if they have had excessive amounts of drink or drugs in the day before the experiment as these are also risk factors.
I am also worried that younger people, whose brains is still developing, might also be using tDCS without proper supervision. There are too many unknown factors in how tDCS affects the brain for it to be safe for unsupervised use, and I think we should be very cautious even in research labs.
Very interesting! A successful ‘maker’ lab with previous EEG device success (32 channel, research-level EEG device) embarks on a lower cost, 4 channel EEG-device-for-the-masses Kickstarter campaign. It’s hugely successful, and fully funded ($80k) with 30 days left to go. So they launch a ‘stretch goal’ for an additional $80k of funding to add the option to pre-order (for $50) a tDCS module.
What does this mean for you and I? Well, it at least certainly points to the possibility that within the next few years we could be sitting in front of a computer screen, monitoring our EEG output (brainwaves, more or less) while we try out a tDCS (tACS, tRNS, tPCS etc.) montage. As in, “Oh Interesting! 1.5 mA stimulation to DLPFC (your forehead) tunes my Theta into that zone that makes me feel like writing a song!” (Kidding but you get the idea).
This gets me really excited when I think about the possibility of thousands of us doing it and contributing the collective data in a useful way to scientific research.
This is what first caught my eye! 3d printed HD-tDCS electrodes?
At OpenBCI, we are cautiously optimistic about the beneficial potential of transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS). As always, safety is our number one priority. We hope to educate the public about proper tDCS techniques, and to offer a new, open-source platform for studying the effects of tDCS on electrical brain activity. If we hit the $160,000 stretch goal, we will provide the option to pre-order a tDCS Shield that is compatible with both the Ganglion and our 32bit board. In addition, we will design custom Ultracortex node mounts for tDCS-specific electrodes. Anybody with the complete Ganglion+Ultracortex+tDCS system will be able to perform simultaneous neurostimulation and neurorecording, trying out different electrode configurations and creating custom “closed-loop” brain-computer interface systems.
tDCS is a type of neurostimulation in which a low-amperage direct current is passed through the scalp from a positively charged electrode (anode) to a negatively charged electrode (cathode). Some research has claimed that tDCS can increase cognitive performance and assist in the treatment of cognitive disorders such as depression and ADHD. Other studies have reported that there is no statistically conclusive evidence that tDCS has any net cognitive effect. Despite the effects of tDCS being critically debated, it is widely accepted that tDCS—when adhering to safety protocols and done in a controlled manner—is a safe method of brain stimulation.
From an older post, but I found it in a tweet from Halo Neuroscience‘s Senior iOS engineer, Rich Lowenberg @richlowenberg. We met Halo Neuroscience back in May, 2014. My sense is we may be hearing more from them soon (though it’s just a hunch based on recent media mentions). If you’re in the San Francisco area, they are recruiting for a TES (transcranial electric stimulation) ‘Hand Strength Study‘.
Halo Neuroscience is working on technology to “boost brain function” and “[elevate] cognitive performance” via headband. Speaking to TechCrunch, Halo co-founder Amol Sarva explained that the company’s tech is being developed to offer not just a remedy but also an edge, as it “stimulates brain function in [both] sick people and healthy people.” He continued:
It makes the brain work better—a wide range of potential effects from accelerating learning to improving body movement control […The] field is a big new area—not just sensing things in the brain or ‘reading’ it, but sending waves into the brain and ‘writing’ to it […] Nobody believed it was real! We didn’t either. Until we tried it.
Halo uses a version of the popular transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS) method, which involves “priming” or “inhibiting” brain cells’ firing patterns by sending low levels of electricity through electrodes in certain scalp areas. This makes particular brain cells more or less likely to fire, therefore targeting brain activity toward certain performance standards.
Note that I do have a relationship with Caputron. When you make a purchase from their site using promo code diytdcs (add to ‘voucher’ box, any item on their site) you receive a discount and I receive an equivalent amount in exchange for providing them a visitor. I have been offered similar relationships with various vendors, but Caputron was the first I felt comfortable partnering with, primarily because their customer support and communication has been outstanding. But also because they carry the ActivaDose Iontophoresis Device which is an FDA approved device (approved for iontophoresis, not tDCS, but the point is that the components and quality are medical grade.) Bundled with the Caputron electrode kit, this is an excellent choice for anyone looking to experiment with tDCS. This is the only device I am personally recommending at this time.
Caputron is rapidly becoming the primary distributor of all things brain stimulation. This puts them in the unique position of being able to bundle appropriate electrodes and cables with the various devices they carry.
But Caputron are also manufacturers and we can look forward to interesting tDCS related products of their own coming soon.
Researchers’ assessment of the efficacy of tDCS in clinical and enhancement contexts. Data represents distribution of responses (%) for each category, see legend.
The cautious approach to use of tDCS is also reflected in the low ratings for efficacy of its use to enhance normal functions. The tDCS research community appears well aware of current limitations and the need for future research to address those. The appearance of enthusiastic articles in the media and online suggest that these cautious views are frequently not being communicated clearly to the public. Researchers must make their views about the limited evidence of safety and efficacy clearly when speaking with the media or communicating with the public.
I had the pleasure of discussing tDCS with article-author Amy Dockser Marcus. She’s put together a very clear picture of where we’re at with DIY tDCS at the moment. I agree that Brent Williams is a great example of someone in the DIY community lighting the way towards safe and ethical home-use of tDCS.
I draw attention to this section of the article because it will be of special interest to regular readers. I find it very interesting to note that this letter addressed to “members of the DIY tDCS community” from concerned researchers happens to be under review for publication a few weeks prior to the FDA Workshop that will address the use of “non-invasive brain stimulation medical devices” (emphasis mine). Unless representatives from the likes of Focus, Thync or Halo Neuroscience show up to represent their devices, I think it very unlikely that the ‘DIY’ community will be represented (though Thync is certainly positioned apart from the DIY community there are obvious overlaps in interest). I signed up for the webcast. Assuming the webcast software actually works, I hope to observe a reasonable discussion between intelligent persons that finds nothing of note to be alarmed about.
Still, Dr. Hamilton believes some home users may not fully recognize that professional research in the field is largely done in people with brains “whose network has been altered and whose functions have been disturbed by or changed by injury.” Promising data gathered about neurostimulation on someone who has had a stroke, for instance, doesn’t necessarily apply to someone with “a normal intact system,” he says.
Researchers also haven’t studied possible long-term impacts of repeated use of tDCS by healthy people. There is some preliminary research raising potential concerns that when neurostimulation improves one brain function, there can be losses in other areas. Assessing the risks and benefits of the technology may differ depending on whether someone is healthy or ill.
Dr. Hamilton is one of a group of scientists and clinicians working with tDCS for medical applications who have written a letter aimed at members of the DIY tDCS community that raises some of their concerns. The letter is under review for publication by an academic journal.
I would only add that while Dr. Hamilton’s work with tDCS for the most part centers around aphasia (stroke) and pain, my sense of tDCS studies coming out of the science community is that it’s trending towards research with healthy individuals.
Using transcranial direct current stimulation, we tested whether stimulation of left lateral prefrontal cortex had discriminate effects on language and memory conditions that rely on executive-control (versus cases with minimal executive-control demands, even in the face of task difficulty). Participants were randomly assigned to receive Anodal, Cathodal, or Sham stimulation of left lateral prefrontal cortex while they (1) processed ambiguous and unambiguous sentences in a word-by-word self-paced reading task and (2) performed an n-back memory task that, on some trials, contained interference lure items reputed to require executive-control. Across both tasks, we parametrically manipulated executive-control demands and task difficulty. Our results revealed that the Anodal group outperformed the remaining groups on (1) the sentence processing conditions requiring executive-control, and (2) only the most complex n-back conditions, regardless of executive-control demands. Together, these findings add to the mounting evidence for the selective causal role of left lateral prefrontal cortex for executive-control tasks in the language domain. Moreover, we provide the first evidence suggesting that brain stimulation is a promising method to mitigate processing demands encountered during online sentence processing.
I haven’t seen any word of this on their site or Twitter, but it appears Thync is set to launch new ‘vibes’. It’s also possible that because I’m on their mailing list, I’m part of a marketing test. You’ll recall that a ‘vibe’ is a desired outcome from a setting on their hardware. Thync launched with the ‘Calm’ and ‘Energy’ vibe. The email announces the ‘Workout Vibe’, the ‘Zen Vibe’ and the ‘Holiday Vibe’.
I would assume each Vibe represents a unique waveform? Was there additional science as well or based off previous study?
@DIYtDCS Yes all are distinct waveforms & rigoursly tested on 100+ volunteers/week. 15,000+ total vibes used by customers in Oct alone
— Jamie (@jamiethync) November 4, 2015
@DIYtDCS Interesting… of course, the app tracks use! No doubt some fascinating data emerging, especially as new Vibes come online.
@DIYtDCS You got it! Neuromod research on new level. Industrial data leads to new insights/capabilities & improved tech across the board.
This instructional video demonstrates the correct way to measure and place electrodes. In a clinical setting, with a medical grade tDCS device (Soterix), a subject is measured for electrode placement on the primary motor cortex. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex region is also shown. This is the first time I’ve seen the video on Youtube (making it easy to share). Previously it could only be found here, where an associated pdf which includes illustrations is also made available.
This is an incredibly well-researched paper. All the nuance of FDA regulation around tDCS and similar devices is made clear. I’ve been picking away at trying to understand this myself, but had become extremely frustrated by the complexity and opacity of FDA jargon and legalese. Anna has collected all the relevant facts and applied them very close to home citing specific devices and situations the DIY tDCS crowd will be familiar with. Anna Wexler is the author as well of The practices of do-it-yourself brain stimulation: implications for ethical considerations and regulatory proposals (gated) . She spoke to myself and at least a handful of other reddit.com/r/tDCS contributors for that paper. In both papers she lays out a very sensible approach to regulating tDCS, or rather, not regulating it. Stating that there is already a body of relevant law stemming from various government agencies (in the U.S.) that could be called upon to regulate tDCS device use as needed.
This paper contributes to the literature on the regulation of consumer brain stimulation devices in the USA by providing a fact-based analysis of the consumer tDCS market and relevant laws and regulations. In the first section, I present a short history of the DIY tDCS movement and the subsequent emergence of DTC devices. In the second and third sections, I outline the basics of FDA medical device regulation and discuss how the definition of a medical device—which focuses on the intended use of the device rather than its mechanism of action—is of paramount importance for discussions of consumer tDCS device regulation. I then discuss how both the FDA and the courts have understood the FDA’s jurisdiction over medical devices in cases where the meaning of ‘intended use’ has been challenged. In the fourth section, I analyse the only instance of tDCS regulatory action to date, in which the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) forced a firm to recall several hundred consumer tDCS devices. Although there exists a common perception that the FDA has not been involved with the regulation of consumer tDCS devices, the California case demonstrates that the CDPH’s actions were instigated by an FDA engineer. Finally, I discuss the multiple US authorities, other than the FDA, that can regulate consumer brain stimulation devices.
Marketing language from the websites of consumer tDCS devices available for purchase as of June 2015.
The focus of the second day of the workshop will be non-invasive brain stimulation medical devices, which are medical devices that are intended to improve, affect, or otherwise modify the cognitive function of a normal individual (i.e., without a treatment objective) by means of non-invasive electrical or electromagnetic stimulation to the head. The purpose of this workshop is to obtain public input and feedback on scientific, clinical, and regulatory considerations associated with medical devices for assessing and influencing cognitive function.
Update 10/16/2015: Today I learned that this study is ongoing and recruiting participants. If you or someone you know is pregnant and dealing with severe depression, consider contacting study author Simone Vigod at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto. Study Protocol. You can also follow Simone on Twitter.
Tatania Samburova, a Russia-born economist who immigrated to Canada two years ago, developed depression before becoming pregnant. Her depression left her feeling hollow, even suicidal.
“You do not feel yourself living. You do not want anything, you do not want to go somewhere, to do something,” she said.
Her doctor offered her antidepressants, but, while she knew they would offer her relief, she decided against using them over fears they may harm her child.
“Even if it will bring me, right now, some kind of relief, it can also affect the life of a little child,” she said.
Instead, she travelled to Mount Sinai (hospital) every day for three weeks to be treated as part of the study. She doesn’t know for sure if she received a sham treatment or the actual tDCT stimulation but suspects she had the actual therapy because within days her appetite returned and she felt her mood lifting.
“This treatment brought happiness back to me; it brought life back to me,” she said.
She remains well today, with her baby due mid-March.
Vigod notes that some women are so desperate for treatment that they are not waiting for the study results.
“I can tell you anecdotally that women are buying devices like this in the U.S. and using them at home, but they haven’t really been tested to see if it works to make the depression better.”
From the study protocol: The active tDCS intervention is active 2 mA tDCS. Direct current is transferred continuously for 30 minutes with a pair of saline-soaked sponge electrodes (contact area of 5 × 7 cm), and delivered by a specially developed, battery-driven constant current stimulator. The electrodes are placed over F3 and F4 according to the 10–20 international system for electroencephalogram placement.
Oxley said a paper published in Nature last year, which showed lucid dreams could be induced through stimulating gamma waves in a sleeping person, inspired a lot of customers to try to use foc.us in the same way. So the foc.us team wrote a new program specifically designed to try to ellicit lucid dreams.
“A positive charge will excite a part of the brain and a negative current will sort of turn off that part of the brain,” Oxley said. “The higher function areas at the front of the brain are active during lucid dreams, so the idea is that if we excite that while people are dreaming, they’ll have a greater chance of having a lucid dream.”
Oxley said he uses the device nearly every night, and while it doesn’t always work, when it does it’s very exciting. Unfortunately, my experience was not quite so thrilling. Though the lucid dream program on the foc.us delivers a relatively low electrical current of 1.5 milliamps, it was too high for me. The electrodes immediately started to sting my skin and I had to take them off after about three seconds. So, I enlisted my less-sensitive coworkers to test it out, but the results were just as disappointing.
An overwhelming amount of tDCS-related information is about to descend upon us.
Neuroscience 2015 will take place October 17-21 at McCormick Place in Chicago. Join more than 30,000 colleagues from more than 80 countries at the world’s largest marketplace of ideas and tools for global neuroscience.
Here’s a small sample of some of the tDCS-related presentations/abstracts that caught my eye. (Unfortunately I can’t link to my search results so I also scraped the page so you can see for yourself here.)