Daily Bulletin

The Conversation

  • Written by Naomi Burstyner, Senior Fellow, La Trobe University

Gamers are increasingly turning to brain stimulation devices to enhance their performance. Using small, gentle electrical currents sent between two or more electrodes placed on a person’s head, these transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) devices manipulate brain cells’ activity.

But there is little regulation governing the safety and effectiveness of these devices, particularly for users who are at greater risk, such as children or those with existing mental health problems.

The low current issued by a tDCS device is not enough to cause brain cells to fire, but it changes their readiness to fire. This has been shown to enhance memory, attention, language and mathematics skills. In medical terms, tDCS is being trialled for the treatment of chronic pain, epilepsy, stroke, Parkinson’s disease and depression.

These devices are also being marketed to DIY gamers, with enthusiastic take-up. For many gamers, these products are seen as the most advanced tool available for enhancing their performance. But despite the marketing hype, evidence of the effectiveness of commercial tDCS devices in the gaming environment is not clear.

Safety and side effects

Beyond a potential lack of effectiveness, there are some very real safety concerns that should be taken into account regarding their use by DIY gamers.

While tDCS has been shown to be relatively safe, there can be unwanted and unexpected side effects if used incorrectly. These can include skin burns from electrode attachment, seizures and mood swings, increased anger, prolonged impairment to thinking and memory, a worsening of pre-existing depression, and increased problems with cardiovascular and neural function.

Identifying the risks involved in using these products is difficult because long-term consumer safety studies have not been done. But what is known necessitates a precautionary approach.

Differing effects

The type of brain stimulation required to give a positive effect may differ depending on a person’s individual mental health and brain anatomy. Brain stimulation that improves one person’s functioning might not be the same for someone else, so a “one-size-fits-all” approach is problematic.

This is particularly true of children, whose brains are still developing. The skulls of younger people are also thinner, meaning that the stimulation applied to a child’s brain could potentially have a much greater adverse effect than the same amount and frequency delivered to a fully developed adult brain. This may be particularly troubling in the case of tDCS devices used by young gamers, and those with psychiatric conditions such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Time to regulate?

Given concerns over how they might impact vulnerable groups in the long term, it is time to consider whether consumer tDCS devices should be regulated. If such products were to be regulated, they would likely come under medical device regulation.

The Australian regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), would need to be satisfied that these products are “medical devices”, defined as devices used in “preventing, diagnosing, curing or alleviating a disease, ailment, defect or injury” or “modifying … a physiological process”.

Whether or not to bring such products within medical device regulation is currently a matter for debate in both Europe and the United States. Manufacturers of consumer tDCS products have made claims about general wellness and cognitive enhancement, such as increased attention. Arguably, this latter claim could imply suitability for the treatment of conditions where this is a clinical condition, such as ADHD, making it feasible to bring it within medical device regulation.

The US regulator, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has taken the lead in the area, last year convening a public workshop to explore how best to approach the issue. The FDA also made clear in a set of guidelines published in July on general wellness products that it does not consider “a neurostimulation product that claims to improve memory” to be low-risk, “due to the risks to a user’s safety from electrical stimulation”.

tDCS devices have been shown to be relatively safe when used by trained clinicians in healthy individuals. However, there are known side effects, ranging from minor to significant, leading to potential risks for DIY users. These devices are largely under-regulated compared with other neurological interventions.

Following the lead of the FDA, the Australian regulator (TGA) should take steps to examine the safety risks involved in using these devices. This is especially important for vulnerable groups, such as young gamers, given their potential to significant impact the brain.

Authors: Naomi Burstyner, Senior Fellow, La Trobe University

Read more http://theconversation.com/brain-stimulation-is-getting-popular-with-gamers-is-it-time-to-regulate-it-66845

Writers Wanted

Asian countries do aged care differently. Here's what we can learn from them


The Conversation


Prime Minister Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News

KIERAN GILBERT: Kieran Gilbert here with you and the Prime Minister joins me. Prime Minister, thanks so much for your time.  PRIME MINISTER: G'day Kieran.  GILBERT: An assumption a vaccine is ...

Daily Bulletin - avatar Daily Bulletin

Did BLM Really Change the US Police Work?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has proven that the power of the state rests in the hands of the people it governs. Following the death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in a case of ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

Scott Morrison: the right man at the right time

Australia is not at war with another nation or ideology in August 2020 but the nation is in conflict. There are serious threats from China and there are many challenges flowing from the pandemic tha...

Greg Rogers - avatar Greg Rogers

Business News

Top 5 US Logistics Companies

Nothing is more annoying than having to deal with unreliable shipping companies for your fragile and important packages. Other than providing the best customer service, a logistics company also ne...

News Co - avatar News Co

Luke Lazarus Helps Turns Startups into Global Stalwarts

There are many positive aspects to globalization. It is no secret that those who have been impacted by globalization tend to enjoy a higher standard of living in general. One factor that has led to ...

Emma Davidson - avatar Emma Davidson

Digital-based strategies that grow and expand your business

Small and medium-sized businesses are increasingly relying on new technology solutions to strengthen their product development, marketing, and customer engagement activities. Technology adoption...

News Co - avatar News Co

News Co Media Group

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion