Many of us think of “shock treatment" as one of the worst missteps of psychiatry—second only to lobotomy—but it’s made a comeback in recent years as a second-line treatment for particularly recalcitrant depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. While this type of procedure can only be administered in the hospital under the care of specially trained physicians, a new form of administering electricity to the brain is gaining in popularity. And it’s something you can do in the comfort of your own home.

“Transcranial direct current stimulation”—or tDCS for short—delivers weak electrical currents to the brain with the aim of increasing activity.  Proponents say this new treatment, which is driven by a nine-volt battery, can deliver improved sleep, clarity and mood to those willing to try it.  A study at Oxford University even found that people whose brains were electrically stimulated learned to solve a difficult mathematical problem 28% faster than those whose brains were not.

There are, of course, downsides and caveats. TDCS has been shown to create anxiety in the minds of those who were not previously anxious, and can cause itching, burning and even painful sensations.  Although these side effects are considered minor, Michael Nitsche, a neurophysiologist at the University Medical Center in Goettingen, Germany, told the Los Angeles Times, "My advice would be to be cautious."

Would you try tDCS? Do you think its development is scary or exciting?

 

Sources:

  1. Los Angeles Times: Would You Let Someone Zap Your Brain? Why 'Electronic Brain Stimulation' Is Trending
  2. The New York Times: A Glut of Antidepressants
  3. The New Yorker: Electrified