Electric shock therapy is coming to the masses. If that sentence conjured up disturbing images of, say, Jack Nicholson convulsing in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, not to worry. This form of shock therapy involves wearing a headband that produces a mild--even pleasant--sensation. (Silicon Valley types prefer to call it "brain-hacking.")
Wearable technology startup Thync is trying to leapfrog gadgets like Fitbits that merely track what's going on in your body by adding a completely new feature: instant symptom relief via electric zaps that give your mind a boost, the Washington Post reports. Founded in 2011, the San Francisco-based company claims its device stimulates the brain with low-voltage electric pulses that give neurons a jolt, causing them to ramp up or curtail the release of chemicals that influence your mood.
According to Thync co-founder Jamie Tyler, a neurobiologist and former research fellow at Harvard's Center for Brain Science and Department of Cellular and Molecular Biology, these electric pulses can increase your willpower and help you think more creatively. They may even one day be able to jumpstart emotions like happiness, the Post reports.
Thync has raised more than $25 million from venture firms including Andreessen Horowitz and individuals like scientist Samir Kaul, the "right-hand man" to Khosla Ventures founder Vinod Khosla, the Post writes.
A number of studies have explored whether treating the brain with light electrical currents could one day treat autism, anorexia, and strokes. Still, devices like Thync, which retails for $199, are not currently classified as medical devices due to the weakness of the electric stimuli, and therefore the company's claims have not been verified by the Food and Drug Administration. Some neuroscience experts have expressed concern that sending electrical charges to certain parts of the brain could have a negative impacts on other regions.
"When you're dealing with the brain and electrical simulation, there are always possible dangers," Kareem Zaghloul, head of one of the brain labs at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, told the Post. "We think the chances are quite low, but it's still a potential problem."
Another risk is that users becoming addicted to the treatments. It's also possible, though perhaps a little farfetched at least at this stage, that hackers could rig the devices to stimulate areas of the brain related to fear or anxiety.
Thync has published one study involving 82 volunteers who reported that a 14-minute session reduced stress. Tyler told the Post that despite it being early days for the technology, he sees future treatments having a positive impact on things like migraines and more serious neurological conditions.
"[A] lot more work still needs to be done, but the technology holds tremendous promise," he said. "It's not just about us saying we're going to stimulate the nerves so you can chill."