Not Quite A Take Apart – Nathan Looks At The Thync Device

I was happy to lend Nathan my Thync. I knew he’d get to the bottom of what exactly was going on. Especially in the context of exploring TES, pulsed wave forms and some of the older technologies I’d recently been made aware of in my interview with Anna Wexler, I knew the Thync device would represent the state of the art. Jamie Tyler had arranged for me to have one, most likely in my capacity as a blogger and reporter of all things related to neurostimulation. I myself did not experience any significant effects using the Thync though I did find myself using it frequently – mostly the Calm vibe. Was there some effect lying just below consciousness that my body was reacting to? Certainly nothing like the experience Manoush Zomorodi had trying Thync for her podcast episode Forget Edibles: Getting High on Wearables (really a must hear).

Check out Nathan’s full analysis of the Thync device. The Science and Technology Behind Thync’s Brain(?) Stimulator


Catching Up With tDCS News

If you’re a Twitter person, follow along here: where I cover more advanced tDCS-related news.

In new work Jonides in presenting at the CNS conference, he and colleagues have found that tDCS has a robust effect on working memory, with enhancements lasting over a course of months. “Previous research has been equivocal about whether tDCS enhances training, and there have been no long-term investigations of how long that training effect lasts,” Jonides says.

In the new study, 62 participants randomly received tDCS stimulation to either the right or left prefrontal cortex or received sham stimulation while performing a visuospatial working memory task. After 7 training sessions, those who received the tDCS stimulation had increased working memory capabilities, even several months after completing their training. They also found that those who receive stimulation on the right prefrontal cortex had selective ability to transfer the working memory to non-trained tasks.

I will definitely be following up on this one. Neuroscientists working to test brain training claims 4/5/16

Here, we review the recent research that has explored the effects of tDCS on WM (working memory) in healthy young adults, older adults, and patient populations. We also discuss several recent meta-analyses that have examined the efficacy of tDCS as a WM intervention. While a majority of the papers reviewed suggest that tDCS can modulate WM, this effect is highly inconsistent. These seemingly conflicting results may be driven by differences in study design, tDCS protocol, or inter-individual differences.

Meta research paper looks years of tDCS working memory research. Interesting and useful, in the list of papers they cite they add (highlighted) the particular significance of that paper. Uncertainty and Promise: the Effects of Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation on Working Memory  4/5/16

Those advantages appeal to the DIY users as well. On Reddit’s tDCS community, many anonymous users describe using the technique to treat mental disorders, including depression and anxiety. Alexander Mark is one of them. A 63-year-old Michigan resident, he says, “I am afflicted with Bipolar Disorder II, and learned about tDCS in an effort to find a way to relieve myself of the severe depression that often comes with the illness.” He began trying it when his medication proved ineffective (though that’s no longer the case), and he’s only had a single negative experience—when he misplaced an electrode. (He currently uses the Chattanooga Ionto iontophoresis system, which sells for about $700 through third-party merchants on Amazon.)

Article also discusses a Direct To Consumer tDCS device that didn’t do so well in their tests. The promise and peril of DIY electrical brain stimulation By Anna Denejkina 4/10/16

I would argue that the fine tradition of self-experimentation can be harnessed, if structures are created that allow at-home users to contribute their experiences to a common store of knowledge. At present online sharing of tDCS experiences is haphazard, and is restricted to the more anarchic fringes of the internet. However, those communities are generating potentially valuable information, which could be of great interest to researchers and to manufacturers. At-home and DIY users frequently stretch the limits of protocols, delivering higher current for greater amounts of time.17 Bringing at-home users into the fold will provide useful information about safe and unsafe protocols, and will generate important information about the milder side-effects of tDCS that are thought to be under-reported by researchers

In his paper The regulation of consumer tDCS: engaging a community of creative self-experimenters, Nick Davis makes the case that there is the potential for home-use DIY users to contribute to our understanding of tDCS. 4/5/16

Tyler, who co-founded Thync and recently returned to academia as an associate professor at Arizona State University, says such concerns are legitimate. Yet he is certain that they can be overcome and that medical-grade brain devices will one day be commonplace and able to, for example, relieve the pain of migraines or treat debilitating neurological conditions.

“Yes, a lot more work still needs to be done,” he said. “But the technology holds tremendous promise. It’s not just about us saying we’re going to stimulate the nerves so you can chill.”

Mostly about the Thync (not tDCS) device. Note that Jamie Tyler, who was a co-founder and lead scientist at Thync, has returned to academia (and I’ll hazard a guess, to his first love, transcranial pulsed ultrasound stimulation). Brain-zapping gadgets promise to make you a better you — smarter, stronger, even happier. 3/29/16


Mind over matter: Ultrarunner Dean Karnazes’s brain-training device | Sports Illustrated

Thync works by pulsing small electrical currents, no more than about 20 milliamps, through nerves on the head. A sticky strip of electrodes attaches to places where nerves run close to the skin above the right eyebrow, behind the ear, and on the back of the neck. A small triangular device connects above the eyebrow, and sends electrical pulses out through the electrode strip. According to Jamie Tyler, Thync’s CSO and other co-founder, the effect of pulsing currents along these nerves is to modulate norepinephrine production in the brainstem at the back of the head. The device has two main modes—called “vibes” in Thync-speak—calm and energy. The difference between these two is that energy increases the release of norepinephrine, increasing alertness, whereas calm decreases it.

“Unfocus” on study (was…) Widely available brain training device could impair memory: study

[Update 9/3] Because the tweets just keep on tweeting!

Study author Laura Steenbergen:

We performed this study in August/September 2014, which was before the V2 headset or software were available or even announced.

The study states:

In this study, we tested whether the commercial transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) headset improves cognitive performance, as advertised in the media.

In fact, at the time the study took place, using the Focus v1 device, the (June 25, 2014) website stated:

Stronger, faster, quicker

Excite your prefrontal cortex and get the edge in online gaming


[Update 8/30 Getting a little bit into the weeds here, but having put some time/thought into this r/tDCS thread reply I thought to post it here too to further clarify my issues with the study.]

I’m not sure why you call it ‘the standard montage’. The v1 montage was a bad choice, they recognized that and moved on. What would you say about the product as presented on their website now? Fregni’s study isn’t what I’d hope for in a study either. Maybe this ‘Unfocus’ study should have confirmed Fregni’s results using their testing protocol with a ‘medical tDCS apparatus’ before finding that the v1 device ‘impairs working memory’. In the study, they state:

In this study, we tested whether the commercial transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) headset improves cognitive performance, as advertised in the media.

But in another interview (translated) she states:

Reuning: The company that sells this device, thus claiming that it improves working memory. Is that correct? Steenbergen: Well, at least for the new version of the device they advertise on their website. The version we tested is intended to improve performance in computer games, according to the manufacturer.

Did ever state that the v1 ‘improved working memory’? I don’t think so. Here’s what I think this whole study is really about (again, translated from the same article):

…Of the medical equipment we know that they are safe. We know which regulations need to be followed if one wants to use them. But for the non-prescription devices there are no such provisions.

And yes, totally agree that all sorts of claims are being made. It’s a challenge to parse out good science, especially now that VC and DARPA money are coming into brain stimulation. Not to mention claims made by manufacturers of devices. But all that keeps it interesting and fun actually.

I would have been completely okay with this just being another bad tDCS study if it wasn’t so blatant a hatchet job on and the diy community in general.

[Update 8/28]

“Unfocus” on study – Our Response
For the record – the original gamer was tested and CE certified by an independent UK based Notified Body to standards EN60601-1:2006 and EN60601-2-10:2000.
It was the first CE certified consumer tDCS device. As far as we are aware, remains the only CE certified consumer tDCS device available today.

We welcome researchers who want to test our claims, especially independent 3rd parties who do it without telling us. But we find ourselves disagreeing with the facts presented and thus conclusions of this report.

Michael Oxley co-founder

Source: “Unfocus” on study – Our Response

[Update 8/19] Noticed that Thync’s Jamie Tyler had this to say…

[Update 8/20] Have been in touch with study author Laura Steenbergen who cleared up my question about which version of the device/software was used in the study:

We performed this study in August/September 2014, which was before the V2 headset or software were available or even announced. Hence, we used the software that belonged with the V1 apparatus (which by then was not even available for android yet ;)). Publication of scientific data is a long process, which is one of the reasons we repeatedly state that these findings only apply to V1 (we have no knowledge about V2). Confusingly, some media websites post a picture of the V2 with our findings… But that is beyond my control… I hope this clarifies the situation.. Best, Laura Steenbergen

Of course in the context of there only being one Focus device at the time, their use of the term ‘device’ would imply the entire contents of the box they received. There were no v2 headsets at the time they conducted the research. It’s my awareness of subsequent product developments that confused my initial impression. That plus the fact that the media are denigrating Focus for a product that doesn’t exist based on research that happened over a year ago.

Confused about this study… They tested the v1 headset with the v2 software. Then declare the device “…cannot be regarded as an alternative to CE-certified tDCS devices, the use of which has been demonstrated to be successful in promoting WM.” But the v1 headset has been controversial since first released it! And having v2 of the app/software would imply that they made the choice not to use the newer headset (which follows a more common montage protocol). Anyway… it got published, and we’re talking about it and the buzz gremlins put their spin on it and spread it hither and yon.

In the current study, psychologists from the Netherlands worked with 24 healthy participants, attaching tDCS electrodes to their foreheads as recommended for stimulating the cortex. They used a commercial tDCS headset called “foc. us” that offers gamified and non-gamified stimulation and claims it can increase athletic endurance in addition to cognition. Participants visited the laboratory two times and were each given — unbeknownst to them — both a real stimulation session and a placebo-like service.

Source: Widely available brain training device could impair memory: study – Yahoo News
Reddit discussion:
Paper: “Unfocus” on : commercial tDCS headset impairs working memory

Any other type of sensory stimulation (incl different sham) could have produced same weak effects on WM #junk #tDCS
@sciencelaer thx read it yesterday – lights, tones, etc really could have produced same minimal WM differences – so much junk tDCS research

This Device Can Zap Your Brain Into A State Of Zen. Is That A Good Thing? | Huff Post

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.

Source: This Device Can Zap Your Brain Into A State Of Zen. Is That A Good Thing?

More Thoughts on Thync

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.

Thync paper referenced in talk:
Thync patent application:

(My Notes: FDA, ‘limited output’, exempt from pre-market notification, or 510 k process. Below average current of 10mA, current density below 2mA per square centimeter.)

This Gadget Gives You a Low-Voltage Pick-Me-Up – WSJ

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.)

Source: This Gadget Gives You a Low-Voltage Pick-Me-Up – WSJ

Hacking the Brain: Neuroenhancement with Noninvasive Brain Stimulation

** PANEL **
Hank Greely, JD, Director of the Center for Law and the Biosciences at Stanford Law School.
Alvaro Pascual-Leone, MD PhD, Director of the Berenson-Allen Center for Noninvasive Brain Stimulation at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Jamie Tyler, PhD, the CSO at Thync, a company that manufactures noninvasive brain stimulation technologies for a consumer market.

Therapy Borne on Electrical Currents –

Thync’s strategy is to bypass the brain and instead use pulsed currents to stimulate peripheral nerves closer to the surface of the skin, with the goal of modulating the user’s stress response.
“We spent a year and a half optimizing the wave forms to the point that we felt really confident in the science,” said Jamie Tyler, the company’s chief science officer. His team has tested about 3,300 people in single-blind and double-blind, placebo-controlled studies.
Wave forms refer to a series of electric pulses that change frequency and amplitude over time. Like a sound equalizer, the theory goes, the parameters can be “tuned” to produce an intended biological effect.
Soon into my 20-minute demonstration, I feel a sharp, slightly painful tingling above my eye, like vibrating pinpricks. I brace myself, awaiting relaxation.
According to Dr. Tyler, the “calm vibe” at its peak produces a relaxation greater than that provided by three Benadryls, according to a common statistical measure for effect size. The “energy vibe” is said to be stronger than that produced by a 20-ounce can of Red Bull. Each mood lasts for about 45 minutes without a subsequent crash, Thync says.
But some experts are skeptical, insisting that the company show evidence of peer-reviewed, independently replicated results.

Source: Therapy Borne on Electrical Currents –

Tapping into the power of Thync | TechRepublic

Very well-written and detailed article on the upcoming Thync device. Links to full article below.

I set the vibe level to 60, and felt a slight pressure on my forehead as the vibe commenced. It wasn’t painful but I did note an almost immediate change as the calming electrical signals began to enter my brain. This wasn’t a placebo and it wasn’t suggestion: it was real.

“Think about a stressful situation,” Sumon advised. “Then focus on it a bit later to see how you react to it.”

Naturally, I thought about the hike back to my car and the exodus from Boston before rush hour commenced. Already the apprehension that previously seemed to be looming was a mere thought, nothing more. Just a few moments after starting the demo I felt a steady flow of relaxation coursing through my body. It was a bit like tubing down a lazy river at a water park; pleasant and entertaining, yet not too intense. I continued to take notes on my reactions as Sumon worked on his computer. It was like a comfortable visit with a colleague I’d known for a while.

“You may feel some euphoria,” Sumon stated. I agreed; the experience was like the buzz of a couple of beers, minus the “belly glow” that goes with it.

I raised the intensity level to 62, then 64 and finally 68. I noticed when I increased the threshold I felt a slight twist of pressure in my temple as the sensor responded, but it wasn’t uncomfortable or distracting. However, 68 represented a euphoric flow a bit higher than I seemed to need, so I dialed back down to 62.

I reflected on my upcoming drive home and felt nothing other than confidence. The car would be fine where I had parked it and the drive would be okay too. Even if things got sticky, I had the radio to listen to and no particular demands on my schedule for the evening. There were far worse things than sitting in Boston traffic, I reflected absently.

via Tapping into the power of Thync – TechRepublic.

Neurostimulation: Hacking your brain | The Economist

Very well researched and well-balanced article from Mark Harris at The Economist.

Hardly surprising, then, that DIY brain hackers want in on the action. Christopher Zobrist, a 36-year-old entrepreneur based in Vietnam, is one of them. With little vision he has been registered as blind since birth due to an hereditary condition of his optic nerve that has no established medical treatment. Mr Zobrist read a study of a different kind of transcranial stimulation (using alternating current) that had helped some glaucoma patients in Germany recover part of their vision. Despite neither the condition nor the treatment matching his own situation, Mr Zobrist decided to try tDCS in combination with a visual training app on his tablet computer. He quickly noticed improvements in his distance vision and perception of contrast. “After six months, I can see oncoming traffic two to three times farther away than before, which is very helpful when crossing busy streets,” he says.

Equally troublesome is a meta-analysis of the cognitive and behavioural effects on healthy adults that Mr Horvath subsequently carried out. As before, he included only the most reliable studies: those with a sham control group and replicated by other researchers. It left 200 studies claiming to have discovered beneficial effects on over 100 activities such as problem solving, learning, mental arithmetic, working memory and motor tasks. After his meta-analysis, however, tDCS was found to have had no significant effect on any of them.

If tDCS alters neither the physiology of the brain nor how it performs, thinks Mr Horvath, then evidence suggests it is not doing anything at all. Marom Bikson, a professor of biomedical engineering at City University of New York, disagrees. “I can literally make you fall on your butt using the ‘wrong’ type of tDCS,” he says. Dr Bikson thinks the biggest challenge for tDCS is optimising techniques, such as the dose.

via Neurostimulation: Hacking your brain | The Economist.

How the first brain-altering wearable is being tested | TheDailyDot

Here we go. The Thync device isn’t tDCS after all.
From the study:

We have developed a neuromodulation approach that targets peripheral nerves and utilizes their afferents as signaling conduits to influence brain function. We investigated the effects of this transdermal electrical neurosignaling (TEN) approach on physiological responses to acute stress induction. TEN was targeted to the ophthalmic and maxillary divisions of the right trigeminal nerve and cervical spinal nerve afferents (C2/C3) using high-frequency, pulse-modulated electrical currents. Compared to active sham stimulation, TEN significantly suppressed sympathetic activity in response to acute stress without impeding cognitive performance. This sympatholytic action of TEN was indicated by significant suppression of heart rate variability changes, galvanic skin responses, and salivary α-amylase levels in response to stress. These observations are consistent with the hypothesis that TEN acted partially by modulating activity in the locus coeruleus and subsequent noradrenergic signaling. Dampening sympathetic tone using TEN in such a manner represents a promising approach to managing daily stress and improving brain health.

And as reported by Daily Dot

While I had only 30 minutes of time with Thync, the team told me that it’s been doing in-depth beta testing for a while. Now, Thync is starting to release some of its findings. In a press release this morning, Thync announced a study showing that its device reduces stress without chemicals. Here’s a quick look at how it worked:

In the study, researchers experimentally induced stress in subjects by exposing them to various environmental stimuli causing fear or cognitive pressure. When Thync scientists examined stress biomarkers in the saliva of subjects at different time points throughout the study, they observed something interesting. They found the levels of salivary α-amylase, an enzyme that increases with stress, as well as noradrenergic and sympathetic activity, significantly dropped for the subjects that received electrical neurosignaling compared to the subjects that received the sham.

The results are exactly what Thync has been saying: That it can de-stress us without putting anything into our bodies. It’s an interesting (though admittedly, very academic) look at how Thync works. But the company also helped me understand its testing and offered an anecdotal look at how the device is being used.

via How the first brain-altering wearable is being tested.

You Asked, We Answered: Thync Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How are Thync Vibes tested?

A: Thync Vibes are the culmination of testing and developing of our technology on thousands of people in more than 150 studies we have conducted. When evaluating our Vibes, we monitor biometric signals, psychophysiological variables, and conduct psychometric evaluations. For example, we capture, record, and analyze data such as heart rate, heart rate variability, galvanic skin response, pupil diameter, and EEG to quantify how Vibes influence both the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system.

Our studies also consider the placebo effect by incorporating sham groups in blind tests to assess the effectiveness of a particular stimulus protocols. We use sham protocols that mimic the skin sensations of Vibes and give users the same control interface in our app, but they are designed to be non-functional in increasing energy or enhancing calmness. Our standards for developing reliable and significant Vibe effects are always defined by comparison to sham studies.

Q: Does the Thync device produce long-term changes in brain function or neuroplasticity?

A: Thync scientists have investigated long-term effects with both in-house and sponsored academic research studies and have not identified any maladaptive long-term effects.

Q: Are you planning to add additional Vibes?

A: We are planning to expand our Vibes in the future. Stay tuned.

via You Asked, We Answered: Thync Frequently Asked Questions.

Jamie Tyler – Focused Ultrasound – CSO & Founder of Thync

Somewhere in the course of running down the Rabbit Hole this morning, I found myself thinking, ‘Wait, this feels familiar.’ Then I remembered where I’d seen Jamie Tyler recently- on the About page for Thync! He’s the CSO and Founder! Exciting to think about what may evolve from Thync based on the links below. We do know that Thync’s first product, now in Alpha will be tDCS based.
Are you ready for Digital Heroin?
William ‘Jamie’ Tyler receives innovation award
Fingers on the pulse: Neuroscientists prove ultrasound can be tweaked to stimulate different sensations
Pulsed Ultrasound Differentially Stimulates Somatosensory Circuits in Humans as Indicated by EEG and fMRI
Remote Control of Brain Activity Using Ultrasound
You can deep dive into Jamie’s work from the Thync Scientific Publications page.

Other advantages of ultrasound are that it can be focused through the skull to any discrete region of the brain with millimeter accuracy.”

Tyler Lab of Neuroscience and Neurotechnology

tyler lab experimental P1020128

…one experimental setup we are working on developing for cognitive enhancement applications. Tyler Lab

Tyler has so far investigated whether ultrasound stimulation could stop epileptic seizures, in which lots of brain regions start firing in synchrony. In one of their first experiments along these lines,Tyler’s team induced seizures in mice before applying ultrasound pulses to their skulls. The sound waves broke up the synchronous firing, ending the seizure. He has high hopes that the technique could be used to treat people with head injuries, who often have seizures. “What if you could develop a device that was an automatic external defibrillator, except for the brain, to treat brain injury?” says Tyler. “That’s my vision.”

The work has inspired Stuart Hameroff to test the technique on himself. An anaesthesiologist and consciousness researcher at the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center in Tucson, Hameroff first suggested to a colleague that they try the therapy to treat chronic pain. The colleague agreed, on one condition. “He looked at me and said, ‘you have a nice shaped head, why don’t we try it on you’,” says Hameroff.

Mood lifter

So they did. They applied ultrasound to Hameroff’s temple for 15seconds. Nothing happened immediately. “But about a minute later, I started to get a buzz, like I had a martini, and felt really good for about 2 hours.”

via TranshumanTech: [tt] NS 2932: The knockout enigma: How your mechanical brain works. From New Scientist: