Over the past several decades, neurostimulation techniques such as transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) have gradually gained favour in the public eye. In a new report, published yesterday in the prestigious scientific journal Neuron, IRCM ethics experts raise important questions about the rising tide of tDCS coverage in the media, while regulatory action is lacking and ethical issues need to be addressed.
TDCS is a non-invasive form of neurostimulation, in which constant, low current is delivered directly to areas of the brain using small electrodes. Originally developed to help patients with brain injuries such as strokes, tDCS is now also used to enhance language and mathematical ability, attention span, problem solving, memory, coordination, and even gaming skills. Recently, states the report, tDCS has caused excitement in the lay public and academia as a ‘‘portable, painless, inexpensive and safe’’ therapeutic and enhancement device.
“Despite these claims, the effects of tDCS are hard to predict,” explains Eric Racine, PhD, Director of the Neuroethics research unit at the IRCM, Adjunct Professor in the Department of Medicine (Division of Experimental Medicine) and the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery at McGill University and an affiliate member of the Biomedical Ethics Unit at McGill University, who supervised the research project. “The safety and efficacy of tDCS have only been demonstrated in controlled laboratory settings and, without supervision, the use of tDCS for enhancement might cause serious adverse effects such as temporary respiratory paralysis.”
May 22, 2014