Daily Bulletin


The Conversation

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

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

No Barnaby, 2050 isn't far away. Next week's intergenerational report deals with 2061

arrow_forward

Tips For Good SEO In The Law Sector

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Prime Minister interview with Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon

Karl Stefanovic: PM, good morning to you. Do you have blood on your hands?   PRIME MINISTER: No, it's obviously absurd. What we're doing here is we've got a temporary pause in place because we'v...

Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon - avatar Karl Stefanovic and Allison Langdon

Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivered Keynote Address at AFR Business Summit

Well, thank you all for the opportunity to come and be with you here today. Can I also acknowledge the Gadigal people, the Eora Nation, the elders past and present and future. Can I also acknowled...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Morrison Government commits record $9B to social security safety net

The Morrison Government is enhancing our social security safety net by increasing support for unemployed Australians while strengthening their obligations to search for work.   From March the ...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Business News

Victorian businesses can claim a rebate on COVID-19 deep cleans until 30 June - but many remain unaware

With exposure sites on the rise and financial stresses already on most Victorian businesses, the recent Business Victoria announcement of a substantial 80% COVIDSafe Deep cleaning rebate is a time...

Article by Damien Smith, CEO of Prime Group - avatar Article by Damien Smith, CEO of Prime Group

Six Tips to Get your Business Known on Social Media

Social media is one of the most effective ways to market your brand to the masses. With the meteoric rise in popularity of various social media platforms over the past decade, millions of brands h...

NewsServices.com - avatar NewsServices.com

Boom in Aussies buying up restaurants, pubs, hotels and bars in regional centres

With international borders closed, regional Australia is seeing a dramatic surge in popularity as people move out of the cities and into their quaint communities. City slickers are looking for new...

Tess Sanders Lazarus - avatar Tess Sanders Lazarus