Technology

These Nerve-Stimulating Headphones Will Supposedly Give You A Dopamine High

February 24, 2016 | by Justine Alford

Photo credit: The nerve-stimulating headphones may give you a mood boost. agsandrew/Shutterstock

Who needs sex and drugs when you can have rock ‘n roll? Well, more specifically, a set of headphones that you can use to play rock ‘n roll, and get high in the process, apparently.

Called Nervana, these supposed mood-enhancing headphones were recently presented to the public at Las Vegas’ Consumer Electronics Show by their developers, a Florida-based startup also called Nervana.

The science behind the feel-good gadget lies within the vagus nerve. This nerve runs all the way from the brainstem to the abdomen, reaching all the major organs, with one present on either side of the body. Its signaling is also known to affect regions of the brain that are crammed with cells that release the chemical dopamine, which plays a key role in the brain’s reward and pleasure centers, and also the regulation of mood and emotion.

Nervana claims that their headphones generate small electrical signals, in synchrony with the music being played, which travel through the ear canal and stimulate the vagus nerve, prompting the release of dopamine. Because this neurotransmitter is released during pleasurable activities, like gambling, eating junk food, and having sex, the stimulation will supposedly make you feel good.

There is actually some evidence to support the idea, at least. Vagus nerve stimulation has had some promising results for the treatment of depression, which has been linked to an imbalance in certain chemicals in the brain, including dopamine. Although, that required a surgically implanted device, not external stimulation. But while Nervana is quick to point out that the brains behind the project are medical professionals, they have yet to produce any evidence that the device actually causes a boost in dopamine levels.

But even if it can, is that really desirable for the Everyman? Dopamine is not simply a “happy hormone,” despite what the Internet may tell you. It plays a variety of roles in the brain, affecting neurons involved in movement, cognition, and motivation, and is strongly linked with addiction. And while too little has been linked with various psychiatric and medical conditions, so has too much. However, Nervana told Futurism that there isn’t any risk of overstimulation. As it’s not classed as a medical device, they don’t need FDA approval to prove that.

Whether it actually works or merely acts as a placebo, users have reported feeling happy afterward. So if there’s no harm, the $299 price tag may seem worth it to those seeking an extra buzz, but you’ll have to wait until spring for their arrival. 

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