The Quantified Self and Bio-Hacking:
The age of “hacking your brain” is upon us.
Brain hacks, or BrainHAX™, are the latest step in human evolution.
And no, it’s not as gruesome as it sounds. Nothing to do with machetes or zombies. Traditionally, “hacking” has meant online computer crimes or vandalism. I have had my website “hacked” for nefarious purposes – a very unpleasant experience. And there are some famous computer-hacking incidents that involved the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. But “hacks” – or “HAX” – have recently taken on a whole new meaning. As a sort of mashup of David Allen’s Getting Things Done and the modular code “hacks” devised by computer programmers, Life Hacks now have a life of their own. A Google search returns 92 Million results for the term “hacks,” and only a minority of those entries are about computer crimes! Ninety-two Million. That’s a lot of content; a lot of interest. There are now some great websites devoted to hacks that make your life easier: providing solutions that streamline, simplify, and enhance the quality of your life (some links are listed below). Extending the notion of hacks to human biology is termed “Biohacks” (links below). And here at Sacred Herbals we focus on the HabitHAX™ that can help you achieve your full potential. For more Brain Hacks, go over to the right column on this page and enter “brain hacks” or “brainhax” in the purple subject search box. This article is about the brain hacks, tDCS.
Here’s one simple example of a Habit Hack will improve the chances that you will go for a run in the morning: instead of getting up in the dark and stumbling around trying to find your socks and running shoes and shorts, etc., simply gather everything you’ll need the evening before. That way, when you wake up ready for your run, it’s easier to do it: you’ve made it “frictionless.” You’ve removed a potential excuse. To use a term from chemistry class, you’ve lowered the energy of activation. That’s a life hack. It’s a habit hack!
Bio-hacking is evolving in parallel with the quantified-self movement, along with wearable tech (wearable tech like FitBit and other wearable tech that items that monitor your “metrics”). But bio hacks include a wide array of natural items, as well as technology.
An example of a more innocuous biohack would be the use of creatine, chromium, and ashwagandha supplements in combination with weight-training to help build lean muscle mass. A more infamous form of bio-hacking would be the use of steroids by professional athletes to boost performance. Bio-hacking has been pursued by athletes for as long as there have been paid athletes.
Out at the extreme technology end of Bio-Hacking are people who are becoming cyborgs by surgically implanting devices. As processing power increases geometrically along the Moore’s-law-curve, hardware that is affordable by the average citizen (maybe only average in a financial sense) is being inserted into, or cabled to, nerves, muscles, and other human tissues. Some people welcome this trans-human evolution.
Short of surgical intervention, the near future will provide for serious bio-hacks that augment our abilities. Exoskeleton suits are helping people to lift more, or manipulate heavy equipment for longer periods without shaking; or even restore lost abilities, such as helping the wheelchair-bound to walk on their own again. The goal is to restore or expand our senses and our reach.
MOST Bio-Hacks are safe, benign … even healthy. Most Bio-hacks do not require surgical intervention or even electromechanical equipment like an exoskeleton – think of vitamin-packed green smoothies to help you lose weight or detox.
But back to the topic of BrainHAX™ …
BRAIN HACKS / BrainHAX™
As one might expect, bio-hacking is now being applied to the brain. Who doesn’t want to be smarter? Or more focused? Of course, most of you have been using “brain-hacks” for a while now, without really thinking of these activities as “hacks.” Think of a cup of coffee or tea to help boost your level of intensity before an exam or a business presentation. That’s a brain hack.
Brain-hacks include a spectrum of methods ranging from meditation at one end of the spectrum, to nutritional supplements or a cup of coffee somewhere in the middle, to the other end of the spectrum that now includes things like “trans-cranial direct current stimulation” (tDCS).
We’ll examine the options in the middle of the spectrum, and some at the meditation end of the spectrum, in other articles. But right now, let’s examine this tDCS thing …
Trans-Cranial DC-Stimulation: tDCS
Frontiers in Neuroscience
“What is tDCS?” you ask. It is the practice of placing electrodes on your scalp to apply direct current – typically from a 9-volt transistor battery – to stimulate the brain. Really. According to the journal, Frontiers in Neuroscience:
“tDCS is a non-invasive technique that achieves modulation of brain excitability through the application of direct current at low amplitudes via electrodes placed over the scalp. The result of this stimulation is modulation of excitability of the region of cortex lying directly under the electrode. … Initial studies employing tDCS modulated motor cortex excitability, showing that the modulated cortical excitability can persist after the cessation of the stimulation and that this effect can be modulated by both intensity and duration of delivery.” The authors concluded that tDCS provides enhanced advanced motor skills and fatigue tolerance.
In other words, sending low-amperage direct current to your brain can cause lasting changes in brain function, and improved athletic skills using tDCS. Others have reported significant improvements in memory using tDCS.
Self-Electrocution … Is that a good thing!? Could be …
There is a growing body of data from serious clinical trials suggesting that these tDCS brain-stim kits – both home-grown and store-bought – may benefit a variety of neurological ailments.
According to Medical Studies, tDCS Has These Potential Benefits:
- relieve chronic pain
- reduce symptoms of Parkinson’s
- reduce hallucinations related to Schizophrenia
- relieve migraine headaches
- speed stroke recovery
Clinical trials to assess all of these early reports are ongoing. But even at this early stage, there is huge excitement for the potential of brain hacks to benefit a variety of chronic and neuro-degenerative ailments.
Just as intriguing, academics are assessing tDCS to enhance learning and memory.
Athletes are experimenting with tDCS as a way to boost athletic performance.
Think of tDCS for athletes as guided imagery on steroids (but without the steroids). Curious? Go to www.scholar.google.com and search “tdcs cognitive enhancement” and “tdcs athletic performance” for the latest studies being published in peer-reviewed, respected scientific and medical journals. There are simply too many to list here under ‘resources.’ Prepare yourself for some very interesting reading.
“This is your brain on drugs”
is morphing into
“This is your brain on 9 volts.”
Is tDCS Safe?
Is tDCS safe? That depends. So far, there are no reports of anyone dying from frying their brains. However, it seems that results can vary, depending on where the electrodes are applied to the scalp (that is, overlying what brain regions), and also on which direction the current runs. Of course, this is to be expected in the absence of established medical standards, and given the fact that the majority of people trying tDCS are DIY amateurs who are not enrolled in regulated clinical trials.
Does the FDA Approve?
Not yet. As a result of this DIY free-for-all, there are some cautionary reports on using tDCS. This has fueled an ongoing debate on how “brain enhancement devices” should be regulated. The FDA has yet to decide whether or not these kits – home-grown or commercially available – warrant federal oversight as “medical devices.” And, no surprise here, the technology is moving faster than the governmental bureaucracy. Meaning that the technology of tDCS devices will be mainstream, in widespread use, before the FDA is likely to make a decision. The fact that you can buy tDCS kits on Amazon.com is a clear indicator that tDCS has already entered the mainstream!
While you’re waiting for the FDA to make their decision, you can build your own tDCS unit following the guidance of websites that are devoted to DIY tDCS enthusiasts; or you can simply buy one of the slick, ready-to-use commercial units. Prices range widely, but there are several units available in the consumer sweet-spot below $500. Amazon carries tDCS kits for less than $150! Check the Amazon ad in the right column of this page for more.
For complete transparency, I have not tried tDCS. I am not recommending tDCS. I am not suggesting that you try tDCS. On the other hand, if you do, PLEASE leave a note here and tell me about the experience!
Have you tried tDCS? What was your experience?
Please tell us in the comments on this page.
From Smithsonian article: (http://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/why-brain-brain-communication-no-longer-unthinkable-180954948/?no-ist), by Jerry Adler
“What if medical students could download a technique directly from the brain of the world’s best surgeon, or if musicians could directly access the memory of a great pianist?”