Electrical Current Can Unlock The Seriously Good Drugs In Your Brain
Or, how to get high on electrodes.
Trying to get high but don’t want to go through the hassle of conducting monetary transactions with some friend of a friend who may or may not be giving you what you think you asked for? Try tapping the opiate-like painkillers that you already own. University of Michigan researchers have figured out how to use non-invasive transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to coax the brain into releasing its endogenous opioids–the most powerful natural painkillers that the human body keeps stashed onboard for only those worst-case scenarios.
Generally, those scenarios involve massive, life-threatening trauma of some kind (and hence you can’t really kick back and enjoy the morphine-like ride). But via tDCS–which basically allows very small amounts of current applied precisely to the outside of your scalp to manipulate the neurons inside your brain–the researchers were able to trick the brain into releasing the opioids at will, no trauma necessary.
The research could do some serious good for those suffering from chronic pain and other ailments. Right now, the research team has demonstrated only limited success. In its study, the patient’s threshold for pain increased by 36 percent, but what’s known as clinical pain–like the pain caused by a migraine, for instance–was not actually alleviated. So the procedure currently treats the symptom more than the actual ailment, and that’s okay. By using natural painkillers to manage pain, patients could avoid the side effects of manufactured opiates which include–among other things–powerful addiction. The next phase of the research will explore whether this method can be finessed to actually reduce clinical pain as well as boost pain tolerance.