In April 2015, we featured an article entitled “Neurostimulation: Hacking Your Brain”. It detailed in depth a form of neuromodulation called Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation or tDCS.
If you are new to my story, I am the blind person mentioned in this article. I volunteered to provide the author with information about my experience with using tDCS, and I felt that the author did a great job in his coverage of the overall topic.
However, due to the brevity of the part where I am mentioned, I felt it is necessary to address some logical concerns. Foremost is that I do NOT advocate for anyone to use tDCS without first spending a great deal of time and consideration on the issue.
To begin, the article states that I am blind.
In fact I am not totally blind, but rather, legally blind, which is a standard set by governments to be considered as a person with a disability. In the US, legally blind refers to anyone with less than 20/200 visual acuity in both eyes with best correction. My vision is about 20/500, and it has been in slow decline since I was very young. I was diagnosed with a condition called Autosomal Dominant Optic Atrophy or OPA1 (due to a mutation to this gene).
As you can imagine, this makes my life quite challenging, but I can safely say that since I started to use tDCS over a year ago, my overall quality of life has improved significantly.
I do not attribute all of this to tDCS, as I exercise and practice meditation regularly as well as taking nutritional supplements for mitochondrial support.
[blockquote style=”3″]I apply mindfulness practice to my use of tDCS, and as a result, the way in which I use tDCS has changed over time through careful self-experiments[/blockquote]
At this point, I use tDCS only about once a week.
Furthermore, from the article, it may be misinterpreted that I starting using tDCS to treat my vision, but this is not true. I have always been interested in self-improvement, and wanted to try new things to become a better person and live my life in the right way. A few months before stumbling upon tDCS, I had started to spend more time in meditation and exercising regularly, as well as taking nutritional supplements and becoming vegetarian.
So tDCS seemed like one more thing to try to see if it made a difference for me, and I did not expect that it would affect my vision at all. However, after using it one evening, I noticed that I was able to see better in low light. It was a strange feeling at first, but after trying it for several nights in a row, it was very evident that I could perceive things that I simply couldn’t see before, such as the upper floors of tall buildings, and traffic from more than a few meters away. While my visual acuity remains the same, my contrast perception and ability to notice small objects have noticeably improved.
After having this realization, I began to use tDCS specifically to stimulate different parts of my visual system. I did this with great care, stimulating small amounts at first to see whether there was a noticeable difference, and slowly increasing until the maximum time found in most protocols, which was 20 minutes.
Sometimes I would try to push over this amount, but ended up with headaches, so listened to my body, and went back to the normal session duration. I continued to notice slight improvements to my functional vision, so continued to experiment with other interventions to see how far I could take it.
I have always ‘experimented responsibly’, meaning that if at any time I noticed a decline in my vision or other major negative side effects, I would have stopped experimenting immediately. Fortunately, the only negative side effects I had were headaches every so often. As this is something that I am doing myself, I accept the risks of doing potentially irreversible damage to myself.
If someone is determined to try it, then there are a lot of things to keep in mind. I share my experiences so that others who are curious about using tDCS can learn from them. We’re still at a very early stage in terms of the research, and while the number of published studies are increasing, there are literally trillions of different montage, current, and waveform combinations that have not yet been explored in clinical settings.
For many of us, there are few options for treatment, and tDCS has been shown to provide a glimmer of hope in clinical settings. As tDCS requires a relatively small investment in equipment, it is quite accessible. However, it does require a lot of time and knowledge to use it effectively. Without a great deal of time and effort to understand the details of one’s specific condition and how tDCS might effect it, I would not recommend using tDCS until standardized treatment plans become available for one’s specific condition.
One thing that is clear from the published studies, tDCS works for some, and does not work for others. The reasons for this are unclear, but it most likely has to do with the specific neurochemical environment in the brain, which does differ from person to person, depending on their genes and physiological development. I’ve spent a great deal of time educating myself about neuroscience over the past year, and I’ve only begun to scratch the surface of this field.
Finally, I have the utmost respect for the researchers and clinicians who are working hard to forge the causal links that will help make this and similar treatments more reliable in the future. I understand why many researchers and clinicians have a negative view of the ‘DIY’ tDCS community.
However, we must acknowledge that we live in an age of open communication and information sharing, and every person has the freedom to do what they feel is right, especially when it comes to their physical body. This is a real lesson in non-dualism, where both sides must appreciate the truth and motives of the other, because both sides have valid points.
From my experience, I believe that tDCS may hold great potential as an adjunct to contemplative practices in short-term applications, and that this could be one potential avenue for further study. My grandmother is a devout Buddhist, and while I have the deepest respect for her beliefs and for those of all religions. I grew up in a different time, so my beliefs are more rooted in science than religious doctrine.
I do believe in non-dualism, so I make no judgements on which belief system is right or wrong.
At the end of the day, each of us has our own path to walk, and each of us has our own ideas of happiness, love, and how we want to live our lives.
For me, tDCS was an integral part of my life over the last 12 months, and I would not trade that experience for anything.
Thank you for reading my story, and may you find peace, happiness, and love.