tDCS Reality-Check and Review of the Biocurrent Kit

Biocurrent kit

OK, it’s time for a tDCS reality check!

Fact: (sadly), tDCS will always be a niche thing. There is no way for big-pharma or physicians to rake in tons of cash on a treatment that is so simple that it can’t even be patented.  Persons wishing to take advantage of traditional two-electrode tDCS will seemingly be left up to their own resourcefulness while high-definition tDCS  (because of complexity of many electrodes) will remain in the hands of a few physicians and research institutes.

Given the above, it’s unlikely that (in the US at least) you will ever be able to go to the corner drug store and pick up a two-electrode tDCS device.  Likely big-pharma will lobby against it – and the FDA won’t allow it – even though a trained pharmacist could easily show you how to correctly use it! It’s really a heart-breaker because for the masses (otherwise generally healthy individuals), two-electrode tDCS is a Godsend. The whole situation is a great demonstration of just how messed up our system of medicine can be – even if it is the best in the world.

If you have bothered to read the scientific papers (see my blog and many others) or happen to know some folks who have used tDCS to treat depression, chronic-pain, or used it to enhance learning or memory, then you know tDCS might just be the greatest thing since aspirin.

Given market and bureaucratic realities, the vast majority of people wishing to take advantage of tDCS will be left to; 1. find the all too rare doctor familiar and treating with tDCS, 2. build their own tDCS device, 3. buy a tDCS device from off-shore, or 4. buy a domestically sold battery powered “very low current DC power supply” and use it for tDCS.  I’ve written extensively about 1, 2, and 3 in prior posts.  So lets explore number 4.

The FDA does not regulate the sale of DC power supplies.  If someone were to acquire a battery operated, very low current supply (2 mA max) and on their own decide to use it for tDCS, who could stop them? Hopefully they will have read well all the practical and safety information regarding tDCS.

Enter the Biocurrent Kit

www.biocurrentkit.com has just started offering a battery operated 1 to 2 mA kit that is offered not as a tDCS device (tDCS doesn’t even appear in their instruction sheet and barely on the web site), but as a regulated very low current DC supply. What you do with it is up to you. Biocurrent sent me an evaluation unit to dig into and I have to say, I’m impressed with the simplicity of the kit – and that it does exactly what Biocurrent says it will do – supply 1, 1.5, or 2 mA current.

Here’s a look at the kit just after unpacking the box:

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It consists of three current control modules (1, 1.5, and 2 mA), a battery pack, connecting wires, electrodes, headband, and easy to follow instructions.  The wires supplied have different connectors so that you can not mis-wire the kit. You simply plug the “building blocks” together and you have a nice regulated very low current DC supply! What you do with it is your business.

100_1248

(A closer look at the current control modules and battery pack.)

100_1244

(Assembled kit with 1.5 mA module.  Electrodes plug into wires at the top of the image.)

The kit sells for $185 at www.biocurrentkit.com

What the Biocurrent kit lacks in beauty and charm it more than makes up for with creativity and simplicity.  I’m sure future versions will become more refined.  But hey, it works! I’m hoping they will add a meter-module – I’m a big fan of being able to measure the exact current level of a DC power supply.  A timer module would be another interesting add-on!

Conclusion

Want to try tDCS? Seek out a medical professional treating with tDCS first. They are more rare than 50 carat diamonds – so good luck. Want to buy a “real” tDCS device, good luck again – in the US they are prescribed medical devices so they are VERY expensive.  You are left with buying from an off-shore source or re-purposing a domestically obtained iontophoresis (or similar) device.  What Biocurrent offers is an interesting and creative twist.  I’m so curious to see if there are enough buyers for this idea to fly. If you decide to go this route, it is up to you to read, read, read, tDCS related material so that you know what you are doing and can do it safely.

Maybe one day you will be able to buy a tDCS device from the corner drug store or Walmart – with required guidance from the pharmacist – and dump forever those expensive and side-effect laden pills. Probably not in my lifetime!

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17 comments on “tDCS Reality-Check and Review of the Biocurrent Kit

  1. I have to respectfully disagree. tDCS will not be a niche thing for long. I certainly hope tDCS will be recognized by the main stream medical community sooner.

    Berenson-Allen Center for Noninvasive Brain Stimulation in Harvard Medical School is already offering tDCS treatments.

    http://www.tmslab.org/patientcare-what-is-tdcs.php

    “TMS and tDCS can be applied to different brain areas with the goal of treating other conditions. Research is ongoing to determine whether these techniques are effective to treat chronic pain, epilepsy and tinnitus. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved the use of TMS or tDCS for these conditions. However, TMS and tDCS can be used as “off-label” treatments, though they are considered investigational (not proven). As such, for any of these treatment indications, we do a complete neurological evaluation with all prospective patients to ensure there are no safety contraindications, and acquire informed consent to ensure that all patients are aware that the treatments are considered off-label.”
    http://www.tmslab.org/patientcare-tms-tdcs-treatments.php

    Professor Colleen Loo of Black Dog Institute in Australia is also very optimistic.

    http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/index.cfm

    The Brain Stimulation Clinic in Atlanta
    http://www.transcranialbrainstimulation.com/tdcs-for-the-treatment-of-depression

    As far as picking up a tDCS device for $19.99 (on sale! 😉 at the check out counter in Walmart….. maybe not. Better to have some qualified medical professionals to teach a patient how to use it properly.

  2. I am a psychiatrist. I have no doubt that tDCS will soon become an integral part of mental health treatment. I am looking for OTC units that would be affordable to my patients – similar for example to a phototherapy unit for Seasonal Affective Disorder. This could be a very successful business for someone. Can anyone help me?

    • I am using one of the iontophoresis unit as my tDCS device, which I brought online for $299 when it was on sale. Same unit as shown on the Berenson-Allen Center’s website. I think it is a reasonable price, quality medical device. It detects the changing resistance on the skin and delivery a true, constant current. It can detect a bad contact and pause the stimulation and warn you so you can adjust the sponges and restart the stimulation. It has a timer.

      American Medical Association estimated 40%-60% of all prescription in US are off-label. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2799128/) How hard would it be for a psychiatrist to prescribe iontophoresis off-label for tDCS?

      I can’t believe they are selling a low current power supply at $185 with no feature and people are buying it. For a device that zap your brain….without any safety approval? $185? Seriously? Yes it has very low output current, but for $114 difference in price? Is your brain, your health, your suffering only worth that much? If someone is going to experiment tDCS on the brain, but want to cheap out on the basic equipment, then maybe that person is not smart enough to conduct such an experiment.

      When I took my motorcycle training course, a student asked the instructor if it is safe to buy the $65 motorcycle helmet from Walmart. The instructor said, “If you think that’s how much your head is worth, go ahead.”

      If the iontophoresis unit doesn’t work (as in any treatment, tDCS is not a 100% cure all miracle.) I think you can at least sell it on eBay or on the many tDCS communities and get some of your money back.

      • I prescribe off label all the time. The issue is not “on label / off label” but “scientific / not scientific”. There are “on label” uses with very little science behind them and “off label ” uses with a great deal of science behind them.

        A perfect example is cytisine (Tabex) available in europe and equal in effecitvness for smoking cessation to varenicline (Chanix) but much, much less expensive. A very well done study published as the lead article in the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated it’s effectiveness but how many physicians recommend it?

      • That is correct, the iontophoresis devices are most likely FDA accepted but the problem is the iontophoresis devices are designed to work for iontophoresis, which may require higher current than 2mA (and probably higher voltage to reach those currents). Hence a simple user error can create a dangerous situation, and that is when it is working correctly.

        On the other hand, a device that has been designed to work for tDCS levels should not be able to output more than 2mA max when working correctly.

      • $185 is not cheaping out.

        It’s robbery. Compared to what this is, there is zero excuse for selling this at that sort of price point.
        As a comparison, if I buy a Weller soldering station, a cheap multimeter, all the components, and have a PCB custom made at a prototyping service, I may APPROACH (but not exceed) this price.

        As for your worries about quality, safe static current regulation is cheap, especially at such low input voltages. The risk here isn’t getting a dangerous current, it’s not getting a current at all… and the sellers make no claims or give advice on how to use it.

        Honestly, if you have time to worry about people using simple electronics to experiment on themselves, you have FAR too few real things to worry about in your life. I’d consider buying a dog or getting married.

      • I don’t sell tDCS devices and have no plans to. However, given development time, assembly cost, marketing costs, support, etc., $185 is not unreasonable for a quality build. Yes – you can build it yourself for less, but try making and selling them for a small profit. Not so easy.
        Brent

  3. I am a psychiatrist. I strongly support the availability of tDCS devices in pharmacies and WalMart. It would save SOOOOO much money. There is NO reason this should not happen. The evidence of effectiveness in depression and other disorders is unmistakable.

    • Too much concern with money, and not enough emphasis on mass distributed benefits. Come back down to earth and focus on bringing benefits to people.

  4. Considering the time and the energie to built a tDCs device, as a total newbie in this field, i had preferred to buy/order one at biocurrent, this morning.

    It will be perfect in combination with my cognitive training, for my residue of depression, for my panic attaks, for my apathy and other things.

    Now i just have to wait a little bit (since i live in France).

    (It’s a shame really, 18 years ago i had a kind of iontophoresis device (working on 9 volts batteries) named “ionocinèse”, which i sold 7 or 8 years ago… If i had keep it, i would juste have had to tweak it a bit i guess.)

    Thank you for the tip anyway.

    (Sorry for my english, i may seriously lack of practice.)

  5. A low dropout constant current circuit is three parts. You could instrument it go/no go with a couple more; throw in some 8-pin Atmel or TI microcontroller and you could add ramping and timing (and possibly bad-contact reporting). You’d probably want a switch or two and probably a multicolor LED to provide state/status info; lastly you’d want to include a power management chip and of course a battery or lithium cell and a case. This is well within the reach of a /large/ number of DIYers. I would expect there to be anonymously-published open hardware/firmware in short order.

  6. One thing that adds complexity is trying to ensure that, for instance, a failed-shorted power pass element doesn’t permit overcurrent. If the folks who are selling the expensive units have done a professional job of making that nigh-unto-impossible, they might be worth the money.

  7. It will be available soon – as will Version 2.0, HD-tDCS (the latter already is available in Europe). No one can withhold devices with such extraordinary potential for very long when the need is so massive and desperate, least of all because the cat’s already out of the bag.

  8. About the biocurrent kit: You have to change the sponges for new ones every 20 days in my experience, otherwise after that time the effect is not as potent, and by far.

    (But i was doing 40 minutes long session a day…)

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