There is a novel do-it-yourself health trend for the new school year. People are attempting to boost their creativity – by purposefully electrocuting themselves.
The method is called transcranial electrical stimulation, or tES, and is easily confused with "shock" therapy, or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), due to its somewhat controversial reputation. However, the currents used in tES are several notches weaker than those used in ECT.
Research shows that yes, the technique can help people with mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety as well as neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson's. There is even evidence to suggest that the "meticulous and controlled" application of tES can enhance your imagination.
It all sounds very promising – but there's a problem.
Experts are worried about the adoption of tES by the DIY community and have expressed concern that people are self-administering electrical stimulation via unregulated devices bought online or made at home. In an article published in the Creativity Research Journal, they warn consumers to be careful while recognizing that the trend is probably unavoidable.
"There are multiple potential concerns with DIY-ers self-administering electric current to their brains, but this use of tES may be inevitable," co-author Adam Green, associate professor in the Department of Psychology and Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience at Georgetown University, said in a statement.
The team specifically highlighted the risk of administrating tES on the developing brain, where there isn't enough research documenting its effects. For the time being, they suggest teachers and parents should probably avoid using the technique in the classroom as a way to "improve" children and adolescents' creativity.
"And, certainly, anytime there is risk of harm with a technology, the scariest risks are those associated with kids and the developing brain," Green added.
While they acknowledge the DIY community's use of review boards and oversight committees to self-regulate, the authors also point out the possibility that many users might ignore safety directions or make their own devices that deliver dangerous amounts of current.
"DIY applications can pose certain challenges in that constraints may not be appreciated or adhered to, and in some cases, not regarded," senior author Professor James Giordano, of the Departments of Neurology and Biochemistry at Georgetown, explained.
But it's not all bad.
"[T]he nature of DIY engagement can also provide an environment of avant garde iterations of science, technology, methods and applications. This is not necessarily a bad thing, per se, as it may in fact 'push the envelope' to some extent," he added.