DIY Neurohacking

Don’t try this at home

In previous years, we’ve covered the RoboRoach, brain hacking, and other at-home experiments in neuroscience, but this year we’re living in a brave new world of brain zapping now that people are making their own at-home neurostimulation devices. Sure, companies sell them, but where’s the craftiness in that?

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There are nearly a dozen neurostimulation devices on the market that allow you to zap your brain with a small electrical current in the hopes of improving your cognitive function. But you can also find instructions online to build your own devices. Gamers, in particular, are interested in DIY neurostimulation after a 2002 study showed that transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) could improve motor skills. In fact, DIYers and scientists are hoping to cooperate in order to gather data on the use of these neurostimulation devices.

The dangers are obvious. The science is shoddy, the risks are unknown, vulnerable people are being encouraged to build and use devices that could cause everything from slight burns now to cognitive issues down the line.

On the other hand, in the case of at-home brain stimulation devices, many people lack basic medical care and large parts of the world are devoid of mental health services. Unless your body has been ravaged by depression, anxiety, or months of insomnia, it can be hard to understand that these experiments are better than nothing.

But when it comes to at-home tinkering among young people or experimentation among adults looking for a jolt of motivation, there needs to be some oversight. Be careful out there.


DIY Electrical Brain Stimulation Is A Worrying New Trend (Big Think, 2018)

At-Home Brain Stimulation: What Could Possibly Go Wrong? (Forbes, 2018) – disclaimer, I wrote this piece

Do DIY Brain-Booster Devices Work? (Scientific American, 2017)

The Practices of Do-It-Yourself Brain Stimulation: Implications for Ethical Considerations and Regulatory Proposals (Journal of Medical Ethics, 2016)

DIY Brain Stimulation Could Have Scary Side Effects, Doctors Say (Motherboard, 2016)

Inside The Strange New World of DIY Brain Stimulation (Wired, 2014)