Electrical Brain Stimulation at Home

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“Access to the human mind opens new possibilities to feel your best and do more. Thync products use neurosignaling to induce shifts in energy and calm states within minutes.

Neurosignaling is the coupling of an energy waveform to a neural structure (receptor, nerve, or brain tissue) to modulate its activity.

Thync uses neurosignaling in the form of electrical pulses delivered through programs we call Vibes. Thync Calm Vibes help your brain relax. Thync Energy Vibes give you an energy boost.

Vibes are targeted to specific neural pathways using advanced bio-materials engineered to achieve optimal results.”

Thus reads the website that markets Thync, a device that is set to be available for purchase later in 2015. It’s one of several products new to the market that provide at-home brain stimulation. The device itself is just, “A small, curved piece of plastic that snaps onto electrodes and produces pulses of electricity. A wireless signal from a smartphone app controls the frequency and intensity of the pulses, gradually changing them in five- to 20-minute long programs that Thync calls vibes.” You read that right – soon, you could be able to control your mood using your smartphone.

Thync reportedly “builds upon the best features of long-standing tDCS [transcranial direct current stimulation] and TENS [transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation] (which causes direct cell firing) by using pulsing currents, lower-level, higher-frequency output, and bio-compatible materials and hydrogels for greater safety and comfort.” tDCS works by sending weak pulses of electricity to specific brain areas – so weak that it’s virtually harmless, but still strong enough to potentially manipulate an altered state of mind. In empirical jargon, “The main effect of tDCS is to modulate cortical excitability depending on the polarity of the applied current.” Studies show that observed effects of tDCS can last for up to an hour after the stimulation, suggesting that it “modifies the synaptic microenvironment.”

Though the evidence on tDCS’s efficacy is conflicting, the makers of Thync frequently return to their in-house study that found that, “A 14-minute session using Thync’s electrical waveforms resulted in significant stress reduction, with 97 percent of the subjects stating the effects induced greater relaxation than the sham treatment.” Jamie Tyler, one of Thync’s cofounders, goes a step further: “Our brains already have the power to combat stress and achieve a calm state. We found a way to invoke these mechanisms on demand using approaches described in our recent report.” However, some experts take these results with a grain of salt: not only was the Thync study “published in the open-access online journal BioRxiv, where papers are not peer-reviewed before publication,” very few tDCS studies in general have been replicated more than once, according to a “review of 1,000 papers” on the subject.

Thync isn’t the only new technology that allows you to stimulate your brain at home. Companies like Halo Neuroscience and Zen Vibez are working on similar products that allegedly improve the wearer’s mood as well as cognitive performance. In addition, other brain stimulation kits being sold online are marketed alongside claims that suggest the user will experience “immediate improvements in tasks like solving math problems and learning a language.” The idea that these devices are being worn by individuals with no training – which means they control the amount of electricity used and the duration for which it’s worn – is particularly concerning, especially in such cases where it’s used on a child in hopes of enhancing academic performance. Professor Colleen Loo (Black Dog Institute) explains, “Used in the right way it can make very useful changes to your brain functioning, but if you get it wrong – if you, for example, reverse the position of the two electrodes – you could actually have the opposite effect… I certainly wouldn’t recommend doing it to yourself at home.” Indeed, numerous studies reiterate that, “An incorrect electrode montage or stimulation of the ‘wrong’ area might generate non-specific or even negative effects.”
It’s hard to imagine what the world would look like if we all had our brain stimulation devices to use in the comfort of our own homes, whenever we felt stressed or fatigued or simply wanted a boost. But given the number of Americans who alter their mood every morning with a cup of coffee and again at night with a glass of wine, this technology is sure to be a huge hit.

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We believe that neuroscience is the next great scientific frontier, and that advances in understanding the nature of the brain, consciousness, behavior, and health will transform human life in this century.

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