TechKnow: Brain Hack - Full Episode

January 4, 2016 4:00PM ET

WATCH: The science of electrical brain stimulation and the DIY movement behind it.


On this episode of TechKnow, Cara Santa Maria explores the clinical and DIY applications of hacking the brain.

For patients suffering from a variety of brain injuries and diseases—from depression to cerebral palsy—  there is a resurgent interest in an area called non-invasive brain stimulation. Small jolts of electricity (about  1/200th of what’s used in electroshock therapy) are directed to the brain in order to change the way that neurons fire. The general theory is that these small currents can alter the brain’s plasticity, causing new neural pathways to circumvent diseased or damaged parts of the brain.  Two of the most common used methods in clinical trials are: TMS and tDCS

(Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation) in which an electromagnetic coil is placed on the head  and tDCS (transcranial direct current stimulation) in which electrodes are placed on head.

What’s interesting about tDCS in particular is that anyone can do it, including for reasons that have nothing to do with disease. There are some commercial products in the $100-200 range already on the market (although their legality is in question because the FDA has not approved them). There’s also a growing movement of DIYers who are getting instructions from reddit, youTube and other online forums to build their own devices in hopes of increasing their mental focus and agility.

Original Air Date: September 27, 2014

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