Experts Warn Against At-Home Electrical Stimulation Therapy

September 10, 2016 0

Noninvasive brain stimulation is a promising therapy for a wide range of psychiatric and neurological issues, but it’s attracted the attention of a group that has some researchers worried: people who are willing to self-administer brain stimulation to boost brain function.

“As clinicians and scientists who study noninvasive brain stimulation, we share a common interest with DIY [do-it-yourself] users … to improve brain function,” wrote Michael Fox, M.D., Ph.D., associate director of the Berenson-Allen Center for Noninvasive Brain Stimulation at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston and colleagues in a recent open letter in the Annals of Neurology. “However … there is much about noninvasive brain stimulation in general, and tDCS [transcranial direct current stimulation] in particular, that remains unknown.”

Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) involves passing a constant, low-intensity current between two electrodes on the scalp. Several clinical studies have suggested that use of tDCS leads to functional improvements in patients with neurological problems.

“Whereas some risks, such as burns to the skin and complications resulting from electrical equipment failures are well recognized, other problematic issues may not be immediately apparent,” the letter continued.

Fox, who is also an assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and studies the effectiveness of noninvasive brain stimulation, told Psychiatric News that his motivation in penning the letter stemmed from his belief that it was important to raise awareness of the potential risks associated with DIY stimulation.

The letter detailed a range of issues and uncertainties surrounding noninvasive stimulation, with an emphasis on tDCS, which is one of the more well-studied noninvasive techniques, and also one that can be readily built or readily bought.

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