The device did seem to work on some level. For 15 minutes, I experienced a light pressure on the side of my forehead while the electrodes delivered pulses. Toward the end of the session and for about an hour afterward, my brain was definitely down a notch. However, I wouldn’t describe the feeling as zen so much as vaguely stoned. This is apparently not unusual, as one of the company’s publicity reps, Mark de la Vina, told me that it makes a small percentage of users feel high. I felt a pleasant, light floatiness and noticed myself typing and speaking more slowly.
The sensation was something I could definitely get used to — although I won’t be swapping out my meditation practice for a vibe session anytime soon.
“People seek to relax … in different ways,” said Dr. Judy Iles, a University of British Columbia neuroethicist. “But why it is better or safer than exercise, meditation or fresh air or other healthy lifestyle behaviors is not evident.”
The bottom line? Early adopters are essentially part of an experiment. Casual users might replace the evening cocktail with an occasional zap, but until more research is done, you’d be wise to think twice before replacing your morning coffee with a jolt to the head.
The anterior (blue) and posterior (orange) regions of the prefrontal cortex sync up to communicate cognitive goals to one another. (Image courtesy of Bradley Voytek)
Voytek and fellow researchers at UC Berkeley’s Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute measured electrical activity in the brains of cognitively healthy epilepsy patients. They found that, as the mental exercises became more demanding, theta waves at 4-8 Hertz or cycles per second synchronized within the brain’s frontal lobe, enabling it to connect with other brain regions, such as the motor cortex.
“In these brief moments of synchronization, quick communication occurs as the neurons between brain regions lock into these frequencies, and this measure is critical in a variety of disorders,” said Voytek, an assistant professor of cognitive science at UC San Diego who conducted the study as a postdoctoral fellow in neuroscience at UC Berkeley.
Timing is everything.
Now if you update your foc.us v2 with the new 2.1 firmware you can set your stimulation to start in the future. Why? To sleep, per chance to dream.
It seems many of you are trying to recreate the Voss, Nitsche 2014 Lucid Dreaming paper published in Nature. So we have created a program with the settings and a timer for you to set based on your sleep pattern. You will still need to estimate when you will be in REM but the program has a 10 min window for you to aim at.
Just because it’s come up quite a bit lately on the tDCS subReddit , I thought to re-publish this link to a talk Jamie Tyler gave just prior to the release of their device, where he explains his understanding of what’s going on, as well as their intentions. Jamie’s intro starts at 45:46. He begins his explanation of how Thync’s device works at 52:46.
Vince Clark has just published video presentations from the recent BrainSTIM conference.
This is a real treasure trove of state-of-the-art tDCS and brain stimulation information.
Presenters: Vince Clark, Giulio Ruffini, Marom Bikson, Peter Bandettini, Michael Nitsche, Katie Witkiewitz, Peter Fox, Luke Torre-Healy, Erika Ross, Mayank Jog, Abbas Babajani-Feremi, Alexander Opitz, Mark Lowe, Hiroyuki Oya, Felipe Salinas, Shalini Narayana, Branislava Curcic-Blake, Franca Tecchio, Yuranny Cabral-Calderin.
After more than a dozen Thync sessions, I’d consider keeping one around to use when I need a chill pill or some encouragement to go to the gym. It’s not a perfect replacement for coffee or wine—more delicious, not to mention social, ways to shift my state of mind. But Thync is a drug-free alternative. It’s just less well understood.
Getting the hang of digitally vibing out takes a few days. The hardest part is applying the tortilla-chip-shaped gadget to your head so it can access the right nerves. Pick the wrong spot and you get the brain-freeze effect; place it too loosely and you get a burning sensation. It uses a gooey disposable strip (sold in $20 packs of five). The other end of the strip goes behind your ear or at the base of your neck to allow the electricity to complete a circuit.
There’s potential for user error, though not self-harm, Thync says, if you follow instructions. (Thync provides guidance via a manual, online videos and live chat.)
Nathan Whitmore continues to push the envelope on DIY brain stimulation. Somewhat above my limited capabilities, we can assume that as the project evolves, the build will get simpler.
BrainKit 1.0 released
To download BrainKit, click here to go to its GitHub page. You can also see an earlier post which lays out some of the concepts behind BrainKit here.
Planning BrainKit started about a year ago when I was thinking about the question “now that putting together the hardware and software to make a relatively inexpensive device to stimulate the brain is basically a solved problem, what is the next major obstacle to the use of noninvasive brain stimulation?” The answer was (and still is) figuring out where in the brain to stimulate to achieve some desired effect.
BrainKit was inspired by this idea, a brain stimulator which also is capable of monitoring brain activity and using statistics to understand the neural correlates of mental states and design stimulation montages more intelligently. For instance, BrainKit can find brain regions that show different patterns of activity in fatigued and alert states—and then allow you to stimulate these regions to see if it affects alertness.
I know I’m going to come off as a hater in this post, but fact is, if tDCS or Electric Stimulation are actually working for you- helping you get to sleep, getting you laid, calming down your horse, or filling your bank account, who am I to judge?
What set me off is the marketing around this Mishka / FisherWallace CES (Cranial Electric Stimulation) device. The FisherWallace device is ‘FDA cleared‘ for the treatment of depression, anxiety, insomnia and chronic pain. You either need a prescription or written authorization from your doctor to order one. Their website is all about doctors and the medical profession. When I saw the Mishka re-brand (website) I was thoroughly confused. What could this edgy NYC clothing company and FisherWallace have in common? Why would FisherWallace, with decades of medical professional product-fit be risking their reputation in the medical community by partnering with Mishka in this sleazy web marketing campaign?
Yes, but why would such an obvious cash grab offend me? I guess it’s just that hundreds of tDCS research papers later I’ve evolved a respect for the science and scientists around tDCS and have become invested in the possibility that someday tDCS or related NIBS (non invasive brain stimulation) will prove effective in helping people. So far, with the exception of some research and first-person reports around tDCS being useful in the treatment of depression (my favorite example), tDCS remains controversial, with little evidence supporting consistent positive results. Nevertheless, the science hasn’t prevented vendors from claiming benefits and selling devices.
So I suppose it took this ad campaign to make me finally realize that a lot about what is going on in the neurostimulation space is…
Hey, we’ve got this little box with lights on it and a couple of harmless electrodes that people put on their heads. How can we make money off of it?
First, participants donned EEG monitors and performed a challenging cognitive control task specifically designed to trip them up. “We saw a beautiful burst of low-frequency activity [from the medial-frontal cortex] right after someone made a mistake,” said Reinhart. “But it was deficient in our patients with schizophrenia.”
In healthy individuals, these theta waves were steady and synchronized, but in people with schizophrenia, the waves were weak and disorganized, suggesting that they were having a harder time processing the mistake. And the subjects’ behavior bore that out—the healthy subjects slowed down by a few milliseconds when they made mistakes and did better in the next round, while the subjects with schizophrenia did not.
After tDCS, the picture was dramatically different. The electrical stimulation to the scalp significantly improved the strength and synchrony of the brain waves in both groups but most notably in people with schizophrenia. “The results of our study clearly indicate that it is possible to restore error-monitoring in people with schizophrenia with tDCS,” said Park.
Reader Patty asked if there were reports of tDCS being effective in the treatment of tinnitus. As this is an important issue to me as well, I thought I’d collect whatever related links I have to the research in one place. While the results I’ve read here seem inconclusive, if I were one of the 3% of tinnitus sufferers for whom the constant sound is extremely disturbing, I wouldn’t hesitate to try one of the protocols outlined in these studies. If you have information to share about your own experiences with tDCS and tinnitus please post them in a comment.
Things have moved on from there and luckily we now have a randomised controlled trial with a sufficient sample size (n=135) of patients suffering from chronic low back pain and shown that tDCS – at least in this population and using a paradigm of 2mA for 20 mins on 5 consecutive days over the motor cortex – does nothing to reduce the perceived intensity of back pain or the disability associated with chronic low back pain (Luedtke et al., 2015). The results were not only not statistically significant, there wasn’t even a trend into the right direction
The largest proportion of researchers rated tDCS in research contexts (cognition, motor, affect) as “partly effective” (28-42%) or “mostly effective” (19-33%). Only a small percentage described tDCS as “ineffective” (2-5%) or “absolutely effective” (2-13%; Fig. 1A). Effectiveness ratings were highest for the motor domain (N = 213, mean±SD 1.71 ± 0.77) followed by cognition (N = 218, 1.49 ± 0.69) and affect (N = 143, 1.34 ± 0.68).