Laboratory Equipment reveals a quantum leap in tDCS – transcranial direct current stimulation, or zapping your brain to make it do things differently. As the regular reader knows well, folks have already used tDCS to enter creative states… but now they’ve found out how to use electricity to release painkilling chemicals in the brain:
In their current study, [Alexandre] DaSilva [of University of Michigan’s Headache & Orofacial Pain Effort Lab] and colleagues intravenously administered a radiotracer that reached important brain areas in a patient with trigeminal neuropathic pain (TNP), a type of chronic, severe facial pain. They applied the electrodes and electrically stimulated the skull right above the motor cortex of the patient for 20 minutes during a PET scan (positron emission tomography). The stimulation is called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS).
The radiotracer was specifically designed to measure, indirectly, the local brain release of mu-opioid, a natural substance that alters pain perception. In order for opiate to function, it needs to bind to the mu-opioid receptor (the study assessed levels of this receptor).
“This is arguably the main resource in the brain to reduce pain,” DaSilva says. “We’re stimulating the release of our [body’s] own resources to provide analgesia. Instead of giving more pharmaceutical opiates, we are directly targeting and activating the same areas in the brain on which they work. [Therefore], we can increase the power of this pain-killing effect and even decrease the use of opiates in general, and consequently avoid their side effects, including addiction.”
The recreational possibilities should terrify you. But for thousands of people in pain… a battery, a couple of pennies and a handful of resistors. That’s a lot less than an opiate prescription.