Leadam, 25, founded The Brain Stimulator, a brain stimulation kit-selling business he started in his mother’s California garage. He said he first heard about tDCS in college, and used it as a learning aid to study for a final.“
I don’t really retain textual-based information that well, so I decided to try out the tDCS device while I read to see if it would help me remember,” he said. “The next day when I went in to take the test, I thought I was going to fail, but it turned out that I got an A. And I actually remember looking at the questions and remembering the concepts down to the very paragraph they were located in the book.”
Such brain stimulation is unregulated and not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but that hasn’t stopped it from going mainstream. Dozens of videos on YouTube show people with their own DIY devices, including video gamers who believe their skills have improved by hooking themselves up to tDCS kits.
Leadam says he sells between 25 and 50 of his $90 brain stimulation devices per day, with his mother, uncle and even his grandmother stepping into his home office to help him meet demand. Although his site includes the warning, “The Brain Stimulator is not a medical device,” and “The results are from our findings and may be incomplete and/or completely wrong! Do not view this data as absolute fact,” Leadam says he sees demand for brain stimulation as only growing.
My sense is that the author’s experience is very similar to that of most tDCS DIYers – an initial flurry of interest followed by frustration at not knowing if ‘it’s working’. That’s why it’s exciting to see easily replicated protocols for self-testing emerging around the Dual N-Back game that is available for free. http://brainworkshop.sourceforge.net/download.html
A device mentioned in the article is J.D. Leadam’s ‘Brain Stimulator’ http://thebrainstimulator.net (No affiliation)
We’d decided to try the “accelerated learning” montage that had been developed and tested by DARPA. The best test of the device we could come up with was to play Nintendo Wii Mario Kart while brain zapping for 20 minutes — our performance seemed easily measurable (we would just play the same course, over and over) and a lot less violent. At first I was miserable, my green dinosaur avatar, Yoshi, falling off the track on every hairpin turn and barely finishing the course in 3:30. By the end, though, I was cracking 3:00. Of course, there was no control here, no way to tell whether I was simply learning a new skill, but I was cautiously optimistic.
In the weeks that followed, I stuck to it, undertaking 20 minutes of tDCS four to five days a week. I decided to try to teach myself interactive web design, and whenever I’d run the current through my brain, I’d accompany it with 20 minutes on Code Academy, the teach-yourself-to-code megasite. But after a few weeks, the results I was looking for seemed elusive. I was obviously getting better at coding, but there was no way for me to know what role the electricity was playing. And it was still kind of painful. So I quit, and about two months after visiting Bikson’s lab, my tDCS device is gathering dust on a shelf in my office.