The Future of Brain Hacking
Whether it’s depression, traumatic brain injury, MS, autism, or you-name-it, illnesses tend to be treated in the same way. They’re managed with medications, but not cured. Until now.
The following technologies are based on one idea: neurons that fire together, wire together. The brain is malleable. “Trained or stimulated neurons develop 25% more branches and increase their size, the number of connections per a neuron, and their blood supply,”(1) meaning not only can the brain be rewired to heal, but optimize.
What It Is:
The Portable Neuromodulation Stimulator (PoNS) uses electrodes to treat chronic neurological symptoms through a small device placed on the tongue. Did you say electrodes on my... tongue? If you’re picturing yourself in an electric chair with the wired-up hat shoved your mouth, back it down. It’s not painful.
Roughly 150 electrodes stimulate the brain to correct how neurons are firing, “amplifying the brain’s ability to heal itself.”(2)
Why This Method:
The tongue has 48 kinds of sensory receptors and 15,000-50,000 nerve fibers on the tip alone. What does that mean? The tongue is an information highway to the brain. (Eg: There’s a reason why babies explore the world by putting things in their mouths.)
How It Works:
The PoNS is placed in the mouth for half an hour while the individual completes specific physical, occupational, and mental exercises. Each one “corresponds with different patterns of tongue stimulation, which in turn coax the brain to form new neural pathways.”
The Advantage: Neuroplasticity is a relatively new idea. Even with top-notch scans, we don’t know always know where a problem originates. The other treatments listed here may only activate one or two small parts of the brain. With the PoNS, you can activate it in its entirety.
Used To Treat:
Parkinsons, MS, traumatic brain injury, stroke, and myriad other conditions. Currently being used by US Army.
Future Brain-hacking Application:
By altering the wave pattern, the PoNS could be used to induce sleep or stimulate people into being more alert. Imagine this: Instead of taking Adderall or Ritalin (or four shots of espresso), you could do a 20 minute PoNS session.
The Miracle Story:
Cheryl Schlitz became known as the “perpetually falling woman” after long-term antibiotic treatment caused damage to her ear canals, impacting her balance. After treatment, not only could Cheryl walk, she could dance.
Low Light Laser Therapy
What It Is:
A concentrated red or infrared light works to help “sick” cells energize and heal themselves, with no side effects. Sounds super hippie-dippie, but it works.
How It Works:
Lasers enhance ATP production (the source of energy within cells), and “can increase the use of oxygen, improve blood circulation, and stimulate the growth of new blood vessels, bringing more nutrients to tissues.”
Lasers can actually regenerate cartilage (something science didn’t know was possible) and treat gangrenous limbs that would otherwise have to be amputated. Unfortunately, most mainstream practitioners have no idea it exists yet.
Used to Treat:
Physical trauma, traumatic brain injury, stroke, depression, and more.
After a TBI, “Allison” was unable to concentrate, sleep, or find the right words. What’s more, the two foreign languages she spoke all but disappeared. After treatment, not only did her concentration increase, but her languages came back.
Future brain-hacking application:
Like the PoNS, LLLT could be used in place of medication to treat the common “vague” symptoms and illnesses from which so many people suffer: depression, anxiety, etc.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation:
What it is:
Already advertised on the radio, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is another non-invasive technique in which a magnetic coil is used to stimulate a small section of the brain.
How it works:
The magnetic coil is placed over the head and repetitive “pulses” (again, not painful!) are delivered for a period of 30-40 minutes, improving neuron function in that region.
Of the three technologies listed here, TMS is certainly the most forward facing. However, there is a chance that since TMS tends to treat all patients at one level, it could exacerbate a patient’s symptoms if their brain is already above that level. EG: If they’re treating you at an “8,” and you’re already at a “9,” they’re bringing you down, not up.
Used to treat:
Depression, mood disorders, Autism, PTSD, drug and alcohol addiction, and various other illnesses.
Martha Rhodes was a successful advertising executive, mother, and wife, who succumbed to depression. A suicide attempt landed her in a psychiatric ward where she tried various medications to no avail. She claims that TMS got her to a place “better than where she started.” You can read about her story in her book, 3,000 Pulses Later.
Future brain-hacking application:
If you can stimulate one area of the brain, you can stimulate others related to different symptoms. The applications are endless.
If you think these technologies sound too futuristic or inaccessible, you’re wrong. In fact, neurotech startups like Cerestim are creating transcranial brain stimulation headsets which would allow individuals to treat themselves at home.
That’s not all, folks. There are dozens of developing technologies fighting for the chance to rewire your brain. Soon, you’ll measure your brainwaves like you measure your heart rate. Your FitBit-type-device will be in your arm, not outside of it, and you’ll know exactly when both your body and brain are at their optimal performance level.
Until then, check out some of my other articles on how to get optimized.
(1) Doidge, Norman, The Brain That Changes Itself, Viking Press: 2007.
(2) Doidge, Norman, The Brain's Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity, Penguin Books Ltd: 2015.